What are Divorce Papers and What do They Include

There is no precise definition of the term divorce papers, but it generally means all the paperwork and documents needed to get a divorce.  

By Tracy Achen, Divorce Coach

The divorce process begins when one spouse (the petitioner) files the divorce petition with the court and the petition and summons is served on the other spouse (the respondent). In some states, the document initiating the divorce is also called the Complaint for Divorce.

In most divorces handled by an attorney, the petition and summons are served by a sheriff or process server. In an uncontested divorce (where both spouses agree on everything), the respondent can sign a “Waiver of Service” form, acknowledging they received the petition and waive the formal service of the summons.

What will be included in your divorce papers?

Every divorce is different and will require different documents depending on where the divorce is filed. The divorce petition and supporting documents will detail the specifics of your marriage and outline the terms of your divorce. The documents required to get a divorce vary from state to state, but generally include some or all of the following documents:

Domestic Relations Information Sheet (also called a Family Court Cover Sheet) which lists the basic information about you and your family. It also identifies which spouse is the petitioner and which is the respondent in the divorce case.

Petition (or Complaint) for Divorce (or Dissolution of Marriage): This form tells the judge and your spouse what you want out of the divorce. It also includes each spouse’s name, address, date of birth, and length of residency in the state. The court will also need to know when and where the couple were married. Also included will be the full names and ages of the children from the marriage. The divorce petition will state the grounds for your divorce and address how the assets and debts will be divided, the arrangements for custody and visitation, alimony and child support provisions, etc.

Summons: This form tells your spouse that you have filed for divorce. It also includes a time-limit in which a response needs to be entered

Financial Affidavit: This document is an accounting of the financial information for both spouses.

Marital Settlement Agreement: This document outlines how the marital estate will be divided, including:

  • Division of property and assets, including how titles and deeds will be transferred;
  • Division of checking, savings, and other financial or investment accounts;
  • Division of debts such as loans, credit card debts, mortgages, etc.;
  • Indemnification of future debts;
  • Alimony or spousal support if applicable;
  • Any settlement payout provisions;

Affidavit Concerning Child Custody: This document discusses custody arrangements for the children including physical and legal custody

Schedule for Visitation of Minor Children: This document outlines the regular schedule for parenting time with the non-custodial parent, as well as holidays and summer vacation.

Child Support Documents: including child support worksheets, which parent will pay child support and the amount to be paid, which parent is responsible for carrying health insurance on the children, how childcare and uninsured medical expenses will be split, etc.

Parenting Plan: This documents outlines how decisions will be made about the children, including schooling and religious preferences, relocation restrictions and more.

Final Divorce Decree (or Dissolution of Marriage): The divorce decree is what the judge will be responsible for signing. Once it's signed, the divorce is official.

What about temporary orders?

Temporary orders are generally filed with the initial divorce petition to maintain the status quo while the divorce is pending. If you have children, you should seriously think about filing for temporary child custody and support of the children. You can also ask for interim relief to help pay the bills until everything is settled. A temporary restraint against domestic violence is also a good idea if there has been a history of abuse in your marriage.

Deciding who will complete your divorce papers

Divorce Attorney: Most people choose to retain an attorney to handle the paperwork for them, which is a good idea in most situations. Because each state has specific laws concerning all the aspects of divorce and child custody, it's often easier to have someone who has experience in this area to handle your case. This is especially true if you have been married for a while and have acquired property and debts during your marriage.

A divorce attorney will complete the divorce petition and related papers, serve them on your spouse, and file them with the local court. An attorney can also help you negotiate the best settlement in your case.

Do It Yourself: You have the option of completing your own divorce papers and filing them at the courthouse yourself. This should only be considered if you and your spouse can reach a mutual agreement on everything. The following page has more information to help you decide whether do it yourself divorce would be a good idea in your situation or not. If you go this route, take your time when filling out the divorce documents, as they are legally binding and the stipulations of your divorce can affect you for a long time. 

If you are considering doing your own divorce papers, using an online service can help make the process go a lot smoother. Just answer the guided questions and your completed documents are instantly available to be printed. A good place to get started is with 3Step Divorce, the original online divorce service. Get all the paperwork you need, quick and signature ready (#ad).

Paralegal: There is also the option of using a paralegal service to complete your divorce documents. Paralegals are trained to work in the legal field and can prepare your documents and tell you where to file the paperwork. But they are not a licensed attorney and can't give legal advice. If your divorce is fairly simple and will be uncontested, using a paralegal can be easier than doing your own divorce papers.

Be sure to check reviews on potential paralegals before choosing one to do your divorce. You want to make sure they have handled many divorces in the past and are comfortable with the court proceedings in your area.

Review everything before signing your divorce papers

Once your divorce papers are drawn up, take some time to carefully review them. If you don't understand what something means or if you're uncomfortable with any of the provisions, you should discuss your concerns with your lawyer.

Even if you prepared your own papers, you can often hire an attorney at an hourly rate to go over your documents with you. You shouldn't sign anything before you fully understand the implications of everything you're agreeing to. And don't sell yourself short just to get out of a bad marriage.

Filing your divorce papers with the court

After both spouses reach an agreement on everything and sign the divorce papers, the final divorce decree (or judgment of dissolution) will then be presented to a judge for approval. After the judge signs the divorce decree, it will be filed at the courthouse.

If you received any property in the divorce, you'll need to have your spouse sign a quit claim deed, which can then be recorded at the courthouse. If you received any vehicles, have your ex sign over the title in the lawyer's office, and file for a change of title at the motor vehicle department.

Realize that this whole process may take some time to complete. Just be patient and know it will soon be over. After everything is finalized, be sure to get a copy of your divorce papers from your lawyer or the courthouse and keep them in a safe place for future reference. 

For a more in-depth discussion about other divorce issues, see the following articles: