Complaints, Petitions and Answers
All divorces begin with the filing of a complaint or petition for divorce. The filing spouse serves her complaint or petition on her spouse, officially giving him a copy, and he has the right to file an answer with the court in response. These documents usually include the details of your marriage and your divorce grounds -- the reason you’re giving the court for your desire to terminate your marriage. You must usually attest that you’ve met your state’s residency requirements, and you can list the things you want the court to give you when your divorce is final, such as your share of property or custody. Some states, such as New Jersey, do not require you to have your signature notarized on these documents, because you’re simply stating facts and asking for relief. Other states, such as Florida, require notarization of petitions and answers.
Most state courts require spouses to file financial affidavits early in the proceedings. These list assets, debts, incomes and budget needs. Significant weight is often given to these statements because judges use them to decide issues of alimony, child support and property division. Most states require notarized signatures on financial affidavits. Others, like Massachusetts, require the signatures of both you and your attorney. Your attorney’s signature indicates that he has “no knowledge” that anything contained in your statement is not true. If you don’t have an attorney, the form includes a clause where you must state that you’re signing it under oath. New Jersey also requires you to sign your financial affidavit under penalty of perjury.
Pendente Lite Motions
Spouses often file pendente lite motions soon after they file for divorce. These motions ask the court to enter orders on a temporary basis until the divorce is final. A spouse might ask for temporary custody, child support or even for help paying the household bills until the court decides who will keep the home. Motion documents usually require accompanying certifications or affidavits -- written explanations of why you’re asking for this relief and why you think the court should grant it. Because the motion request itself is not pivotal to the divorce proceedings, courts usually don’t require notarized signatures. Certifications usually include language above the signature line indicating that you're aware that the court can punish you if you lie. Affidavits are the same as certifications, but include a space for notarization. Depending on the laws of your state, the court might accept certifications or might require affidavits with motion papers.
Marital Settlement Agreements
Spouses often resolve their differences through negotiation and settlement. When this occurs, they or their attorneys can prepare a written detail of their agreement and submit it to the court. If a judge approves the agreement, he will attach it to a divorce decree, eliminating the need for a trial. A settlement agreement is legally binding as a court order, so most states require notarization of both spouses' signatures. New Jersey is an exception. This jurisdiction requires the signatures of any attorneys involved or, if neither spouse has a lawyer, then the signatures of witnesses.