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.

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.