What Happens After You Sign & Notarize Your Divorce Documents?

By Timothy Mucciante

Each state has unique laws regarding divorce and family law matters, so the actual process of preparing and filing divorce documents is determined by state civil procedure laws and local court rules. The term "divorce documents" may include the petition or complaint for divorce, motions for support and custody, stipulated property divisions, and final settlements and decrees. In general, divorce documents are commonly referred to as “pleadings” or “court filings."

Legal Terminology

In a divorce action, the party starting the divorce may be called the “plaintiff” or “petitioner.” The party against whom the divorce is filed may be called the “defendant” or “respondent.” Also, the "clerk of the court” typically is the filing clerk in the courthouse, while the “court clerk” many times refers to the clerk working in the judge’s courtroom.

Filing Divorce Documents

Once any divorce document is signed and notarized, it is typically filed with the clerk of the court for that jurisdiction. In some states, divorce actions are handled by courts of general jurisdiction, while other states have dedicated family courts to handle these matters. Each court may have a different filing procedure. Also, not every state requires divorce documents to be notarized, but all states require all court papers to be signed.

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Court Action After Filing

After divorce pleadings are filed, the clerk of the court usually sends a copy of the documents to the judge on the case. In some jurisdictions, the filing party is expected to drop off the judge’s copy in his chambers. After the judge receives the divorce pleadings, he may schedule a pretrial conference to determine how the issues raised in the pleadings should be resolved.

Court Action on Motions & Divorce Petitions

If the divorce document is a motion or petition to the court requesting it take some action related to the divorce, the judge’s clerk may schedule the matter for a motion hearing. However, if the court papers are the initiation of the divorce, many judges will summon the parties to chambers for a scheduling conference, where discovery cut-off, motion cut-off and other preliminary matters are discussed.

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What Is a Prove-Up Hearing in the Divorce Process?


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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.

Steps to Filing for Divorce in Pierce County, Washington

The state of Washington permits you to obtain a divorce if you or your spouse is a resident of the state. State law governs divorce cases, although each county court has its own rules regarding legal filings and fee schedule. In Pierce County, as in other Washington counties, the process begins with the filing of a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.

Where Do You Look When Your Name Is Put in the Newspaper for Your Divorce?

When your spouse files for divorce, she must give you legally effective notice that she has filed. This notice, called service of process, can be done in several ways, such as sending the divorce petition by certified mail or having the sheriff give it to you. In some circumstances, the only notice required is to publish notice of the divorce in a newspaper.

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