Do Both Parties Have to Sign the Divorce Papers?

By Beverly Bird

Different kinds of divorce papers can be as numerous as the problems they address and the functions they serve. Only a few require the signatures of both spouses, and some don’t require any signatures at all. A spouse doesn’t have to agree to a divorce for it to happen. If he won’t cooperate and won’t sign a particular document, the court will usually finalize the divorce without his participation.


Generally, the spouse who files for divorce is required to sign her own petition or complaint, although some states will allow her attorney to do it for her. The spouse on the receiving end of the complaint will sign and file his own answering document. However, some states have options for divorce by mutual consent. In these states, if spouses agree to end the marriage, they can file a joint petition for divorce. They must both sign it. If one spouse changes his mind and refuses, the other can file a regular petition on her own and initiate a contested matter.

Service of Process

When only one spouse files a petition for divorce, she must have it served on the other spouse so her state has jurisdiction over him. He can sign a waiver, indicating that he’s in agreement with the divorce and does not require official service by a sheriff or other process server. He can also sign an acknowledgment of service, confirming that he received the paperwork. Some states allow for service by registered mail; in these jurisdictions, he would have to sign a mail receipt. If he refuses to sign for the petition of his own accord, the other spouse can resort to other means with the court’s approval. She can use service by publication if the sheriff can’t pin her spouse down to give him the papers. His refusal to sign won’t stop the divorce. After the newspaper publishes notice, the other spouse can file for default because he didn’t participate, and she will ultimately get her divorce.

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Marital Settlement Agreements

In an uncontested divorce, when parties resolve all the issues of their marriage, a property settlement agreement or marital settlement agreement is prepared to detail the terms so they can become part of a divorce decree. This document requires the signatures of both spouses because it is an agreement entered into by consent; each party's signature is his confirmation that he is agreeing to the deal. Courts usually require notarization of the signatures for this reason. Often, when spouses have retained counsel, their attorneys will sign such an agreement as well.


When a divorce goes to trial because a judge must decide issues between spouses, no one but the judge must sign the decree. The decree is his issued order resolving contested matters. Neither spouse has to like it or approve it for it to be binding upon each of them. However, all states have procedures in place to allow a spouse to appeal a judge’s decisions or to ask him to reconsider it.

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What Happens If Divorce Papers Go Unsigned?


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How to Stop Divorce Proceedings Once They Have Been Started

Out of anger and frustration, a husband and wife may decide to file for divorce, yet days later change their minds. Some states force a cooling-off period by refusing to allow a couple to start a divorce until they have been separated for six months -- twelve if there are minor children involved. Other states, however, may allow a couple with no children to file a complaint for uncontested divorce and receive a signed divorce decree within thirty to forty-five days. You may be be able, however, to stop the divorce proceedings before the court enters the decree.

Divorce by Default

A divorce by default is one of the simplest ways to divorce. It generally occurs when one spouse doesn’t answer a divorce complaint within the required time frame. Sometimes, when spouses are in agreement as to the grounds and terms of the divorce, they might decide to obtain a divorce by default as a way to avoid the additional paperwork involved in completing an uncontested divorce process. Each state has its own set of rules regarding fees, service and documents concerning the divorce process. You can use an online legal document service to prepare and file all your divorce paperwork.

How to Serve a Respondent Divorce Papers in California

In divorce proceedings, one spouse petitions the court for a divorce and the other spouse responds to the petition. The spouse who files for divorce becomes the petitioner and the other spouse becomes the respondent. The filing spouse must notify the other spouse of the pending divorce action, provide him with a copy of the documents filed with the court and allow him 30 days to respond. The formal notification process is called service of process. Court rules for service of process vary from state to state. In California, service can come in various forms: personal service, service by mail or substituted service. Courts require the petitioner to provide proof of service in order to continue the proceedings.

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