A divorce has many steps, but it generally starts with a signature. Every document that’s signed serves to move the process of your divorce along as quickly as possible. But what does signing divorce papers mean, and how does this affect you? What are your options if you or your spouse refuses to sign the papers?
Signing the divorce petition
The divorce petition is the first document that has to be completed by the person filing for divorce. These papers (the petition for dissolution of marriage) are then served to your spouse. "Serving" is also referred to as the service of process. You must respond to a divorce petition usually between 20 or 60 days (depending on what state you reside in, and when the petition was originally signed). Failure to respond could result in a default judgment, in which the court rules in favor of the spouse filing for divorce. In short, a petition must be answered.
Filling out the waiver of service form
When both parties are in agreement as it relates to the terms of the divorce, a waiver of service form can be completed. This removes the burden from the court to provide a sheriff or other process server from having to serve the divorce petition.
In cases where both spouses have agreed to a divorce, having the divorce petition served is unnecessary, and the spouse can elect to sign a waiver of service form. Signing the waiver of service form may also mean that the person signing is agreeing that notification of particular proceedings such as jury selection, testimony given in court, depositions, or other matters pertaining to your case is waived. Effectively, you might be waiving "service of process and notice." Consult with an attorney before signing the documents.
Who has to sign divorce papers?
If one party believes that the marriage is irrevocably damaged, the divorce process can begin with the filing of the divorce petition. Once the divorce petition is filed and served, it’s up to the spouse to decide whether or not they agree with the terms. A spouse’s refusal to sign the petition does not mean that the divorce will not happen.
Keep in mind that your spouse is under no obligation to sign the divorce petition as-is. Moreover, the spouse filing for divorce is also under no obligation to show just cause for the divorce. Generally speaking, most divorces are no-fault, which means that no explanation is needed by the person filing for divorce.
Signing under duress
A divorce is contested when one of the parties doesn't accept the terms of divorce.
In certain cases, some spouses will claim that they have been forced to sign divorce papers "under duress." This simply means that intimidation, in the guise of threats or other methods, were used to make you sign the papers.
Signing under duress, however, is harder to prove, and must be brought to the court’s attention early in the proceedings. Coercion in any form is not taken lightly, and it is important that the court is aware of any intimidation from your spouse in regards to the divorce.
Finalizing the divorce decree
The final document you will have to sign is the divorce decree. The terms of the divorce are outlined and the document serves to dissolve your marriage. The divorce decree is the final word on how property will be divided, the nature of alimony payments, and child custody details, and it is signed by the judge.
As such, it is important to carefully review the terms of your divorce decree with an attorney so you’ll know your responsibilities. The judge’s decision is final, but can be appealed depending upon your state’s laws.
While legal documents for divorce are available widely (including online), it’s still a good idea to consult with an experienced attorney to walk you through all the paperwork you will encounter. A lawyer will help you interpret the documents and make an informed decision relating to your divorce case.