Divorce papers mark the legal beginning of a divorce case. Their impact can be enormous if unexpected. Even if expected, they can ominously signal the beginning of an adversarial legal proceeding. Or they can simply represent the need to have the court’s sign-off on a divorce that has already been or will be worked out and agreed to.
What are the “divorce papers?”
The divorce papers are prepared and filed by (or at the direction of) the spouse who initiates the divorce case. In California, two primary forms are filled out: the petition and the summons.
The petition starts the case and establishes the initiating spouse as the “petitioner.” The other spouse will thereafter be the “respondent.” On the petition you ask for dissolution of the marriage and give some basic facts about the marriage and any minor children. Then there are sections in which the Petitioner has the option to indicate what they propose as to custody & visitation, spousal support and division of assets and debts. The court fee to file a petition is currently $435.
The summons makes the respondent aware of the case. It also tells the respondent to file a response within 30 days or risk a possible default judgment – most likely largely granting the petitioner what was asked for in the petition. The court fee to file a response is also currently $435. It is possible to get divorced without filing a response and there are ways to minimize the default judgment risk. On the back of the summons are some important automatic restraining orders that apply to both parties.
The divorce papers need to be “served” on the respondent and the court needs to be advised (using certain forms) that this has been done. You can’t serve your spouse yourself. It has to be done by a third person. It is usually done in person or by mail.
Divorce Papers – Softening the Blow
Here are some ways to lessen the blow of divorce papers:
- discuss and agree with your spouse who is going to file the divorce papers, how they will be served and when this will be done;
- fill out the petition in such a way as to let the court know you intend to resolve your divorce by written agreement;
- don’t start a divorce case until you have reached agreement on all the areas necessary for your divorce;
- at the very least, let your spouse know in advance that the divorce papers are coming.
When couples work with a mediator to resolve the issues in their divorce, the “agreement to mediate” normally includes an agreement to put any and all court proceedings on hold while the mediation is proceeding.