What Documents Do I Notarize for Divorce?

By Beverly Bird

In any situation where serious legal fallout might occur if you’re not who you say you are, courts usually require notarization of your signature. In divorce proceedings, some documents require notarization and others do not. It generally depends on the gravity of the situation if someone should forge your signature. Notaries confirm your identity and make sure you understand what you're signing. Notarization also depends on individual state law. If you’re unsure, court staff can usually advise you and can often notarize your signature as well.

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.

Financial Affidavits

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.

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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.

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Types of Pleadings in a Divorce


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Do Divorce Papers Reflect Adultery as the Reason?

If a spouse has committed adultery, no state forces the wronged partner to include this information in his complaint or petition for divorce. As of 2010, all 50 states recognize no-fault grounds, so spouses don’t have to prove any marital misconduct to get a divorce. Some “pure” no-fault states don't recognize any fault grounds at all, so you don’t have the option of alleging that your spouse was unfaithful. However, in other jurisdictions, if you want to file on adultery grounds, the details will appear in at least some of your divorce papers.

How to Notarize Divorce Papers

Not all divorce documents require notarization. Many petitions and motions only require that you sign a certification page, attesting under oath that everything you’ve said in the document is true. Financial forms generally require a notary to confirm that it’s really your signature on the document, however. A notary is legally liable if she doesn't confirm your identity and someone else signs papers alleging to be you.

What Happens If Divorce Papers Go Unsigned?

During the divorce process, the court and individual spouses’ attorneys ask both parties to sign agreements, petitions and affidavits. If one spouse refuses to sign the divorce papers, it is still possible for the divorce to proceed. Such refusals usually slow down the divorce process and may lead to additional hearings, trials or mediation sessions, but will not preclude the couple from ending the marriage.

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