Signing Divorce Papers: What Does That Mean? Getting divorced can be a confusing process.

A spouse who files for divorce by trying to file the appropriate papers without an attorney (or a spouse who receives a divorce complaint from their other spouse) doesn’t always know what to expect. In a lot of cases, it’s the first time that someone has to really deal with a civil court case at all. This leaves a lot of confusion that goes beyond just the emotional turmoil that might be associated with divorce. People often don’t know how to deal with the legal aspects of the process.

What are the divorce papers? What does it mean to sign divorce papers? What’s an uncontested divorce – and what happens if a spouse refuses to sign or be served? All of these are common questions from both sides of the process.

Signing Divorce Papers: What Does That Mean?

Here’s some of what you should know about the divorce process, whether you’ve just asked for one yourself (or whether you’re the one who is being asked for a split).

FAQ

Questions are common when one spouse has filed for a divorce. Similarly, questions can be common even when both spouses agree to the divorce. Divorces can be traumatic, and they can be complicated. However, a divorce doesn’t have to be a drawn-out process.

Here’s what to know about some of the most common divorce questions.

How Does The Divorce Process Begin?

The divorce process begins when one spouse files divorce papers. The main document that must be filed to start the divorce is the Complaint about the Dissolution of Marriage. This generally must be filed along with the required confidential statistical information that must be provided to the Court. Once this has been done, the Complaint about divorce has to be served upon the other spouse. In an uncontested divorce, this is usually accomplished by the spouse signing a document called a “Voluntary Appearance” which acknowledges that they received a copy of the Complaint from the spouse who filed the divorce Complaint. In a contested matter, the divorce Complaint must generally be served by the sheriff handing the spouse a copy of the divorce complaint and summons issued by the Court.

If a spouse can’t be served by the sheriff and won’t sign a Voluntary Appearance, a spouse can file a motion to ask the Court to allow an alternative method of service.

This could include serving the other spouse by notice of the divorce action being published in the newspaper. Depending on the facts of the case, the Court can even give permission to complete service by text message or e-mail if it is likely that this will give the other spouse actual notice that a divorce action has been filed.

It is a common misconception that the person served with the divorce complaint isn’t expected to do anything until they are sent a notice with a hearing date. This is far from true. In fact, being served with the divorce action generally triggers a requirement to file a written response with the Court. Depending on your state, there is a time limit on how long a spouse who has been served has to file a written response with the Court to the divorce complaint. In Nebraska, this is generally 30 days from the time served. If served with a divorce Complaint, it is very important to file a written response on time. Without a written response, a final divorce decree can be entered with little to no further input from the spouse who failed to file a response on time.

Depending on the facts of the case, being served with the divorce complaint can also start the clock to timely fulfill other court obligations. For example, if children are involved, this could include starting the time limit to take a court-required co-parenting class. In some courts, it starts the timeframe to exchange information with the other spouse pursuant to a local court rule or pre-trial order.

The divorce process begins when one spouse files divorce papers.

The main document that must be filed to start the divorce is the Complaint about the Dissolution of Marriage. This generally must be filed along with the required confidential statistical information that must be provided to the Court. Once this has been done, the Complaint about a divorce has to be served upon the other spouse. An uncontested divorce, this is usually accomplished by the spouse signing a document called a “Voluntary Appearance” which acknowledges that they received a copy of the Complaint from the spouse who filed the divorce Complaint. In a contested matter, the divorce Complaint must generally be served by the sheriff handing the spouse a copy of the divorce complaint and summons issued by the Court.

If a spouse can’t be served by the sheriff and won’t sign a Voluntary Appearance, a spouse can file a motion to ask the Court to allow an alternative method of service. This could include serving the other spouse by notice of the divorce action being published in the newspaper. Depending on the facts of the case, the Court can even give permission to complete service by text message or e-mail if it is likely that this will give the other spouse actual notice that a divorce action has been filed.

It is a common misconception that the person served with the divorce complaint isn’t expected to do anything until they are sent a notice with a hearing date.

This is far from true. In fact, being served with the divorce action generally triggers a requirement to file a written response with the Court. Depending on your state, there is a time limit on how long a spouse who has been served has to file a written response with the Court to the divorce complaint. In Nebraska, this is generally 30 days from the time served. If served with a divorce Complaint, it is very important to file a written response on time. Without a written response, a final divorce decree can be entered with little to no further input from the spouse who failed to file a response on time.

Depending on the facts of the case, being served with the divorce complaint can also start the clock to timely fulfill other court obligations. For example, if children are involved, this could include starting the time limit to take a court-required co-parenting class. In some courts, it starts the timeframe to exchange information with the other spouse pursuant to a local court rule or pre-trial order.

What About The Emotional Aspects Of A Divorce?

Getting divorced can be a traumatic event. For some, it might be unexpected, or feel like a divorce complaint from your spouse comes from out of the blue. Dealing with the emotional aspects of a divorce might require professional counseling. Getting divorced can be one of the most stressful life events a person can experience. Don’t make the mistake of not seeking professional counseling if you need some help. Don’t make the mistake of trying to use your attorney as both your legal professional and mental health counselor. A licensed mental health practitioner is going to be better equipped (and generally at a much lower hourly rate) than your attorney to help you with the emotional aspects of the divorce.

What Are Divorce Papers?

The term divorce papers generally refer to the initial divorce filing, often called the divorce complaint in Nebraska (Complaint for Dissolution of Marriage). The divorce complaint is just the beginning. Even in an uncontested divorce, the divorce is going to involve further paperwork to complete the divorce action. This paperwork will at least include the divorce Decree itself but might also involve a lot of other paperwork. This paperwork can include things like affidavits from both spouses, a parenting plan regarding the children, and paperwork defining the marital assets and debts. This paperwork can become quite complex. This is one reason why professional legal advice from a lawyer is recommended, whether you are the spouse filing for a divorce or whether you have just been served with a Divorce Complaint.

As a shorthand way of remembering, the divorce Complaint in Nebraska is the document that starts the divorce action and generally describes what a person may ask from the Court in the divorce action. The divorce Decree is the document that ends the divorce action and generally describes what the Court has awarded each party in the divorce action. There is a lot of other paperwork that may need to be filed between the initial divorce Complaint and the final divorce Decree depending on the case.

When Both Parties Sign

When both parties agree to the divorce and sign the documents, the divorce is called uncontested. It’s usually the easiest form of divorce. When a divorce is uncontested, the parties may be able to sign paperwork and never actually appear in Court or in front of a judge. It can make the process happen much faster but is not always possible.

What If My Ex Signs, But Contests The Divorce?

It is not uncommon for a spouse to sign a Voluntary Appearance to accept the divorce complaint, but for the parties to disagree on the terms of the final divorce Decree. Whenever a spouse contests the terms of the divorce Decree, it is especially important to seek legal help. Contested divorces can drag out and could become overwhelming just in terms of paperwork and court days. A contested divorce is almost guaranteed to end in court when the terms can’t be resolved through mediation, settlement negotiations, or other means.

What If I Cannot Get Divorce Papers Signed (Or Served)?

A divorce is not always effortless. There are many cases where the other spouse might refuse to sign a voluntary appearance and evade being served by the sheriff with the divorce Complaint. In rare cases, people have skipped to other states or countries just to avoid being served. In other cases, the spouses haven’t had contact in so long that one spouse doesn’t have a clue where the other spouse is.

What happens then?

Ask the Court to allow another method of service. This request is generally done by a formal motion filed with the Court asking permission to use another method of service. The Court can enter an order allowing an alternative service to count as service. For example, when a spouse has lost all contact with the other spouse, a common alternative method allowed is a publication of notice of the divorce action in the newspaper.

What If I Contest The Terms?

Often the tricky part of the divorce action isn’t getting the divorce complaint served but is coming to an agreement on the terms of the divorce Decree. If one spouse fails to follow the procedural requirements, the Court may be willing to grant the other spouse’s requested terms even if disputed. For example, if the served spouse fails to timely file the written response, the Court may deem that they don’t object to the divorce Decree terms proposed by the filing spouse and granted the filing spouse all of their requested divorce Decree terms.

If both spouses are following the procedural requirements but just can’t reach an agreement, there may be other legal options. For example, mediation is a useful tool in many contested divorce actions. If a divorce action isn’t able to resolve after attempts at settlement, then the matter can be set for trial so that the Judge can decide the disputed terms.

Can I Print My Own Divorce Papers?

Yes. In Nebraska, there is no legal requirement that either party retains an attorney in the divorce action. Although it is legally allowed, it is not advisable to proceed without an attorney. Even if your case is uncontested or you start the action on your own, it makes sense to hire an attorney to help make sure you met the formal requirements and to finalize your Decree properly. There are many, many cases of clients who would have saved themselves a lot of problems and attorney fees in the long run if they would have had an attorney to at least review the divorce Decree before submitting it to the Court.

Law Office of Julie Fowler, PC, LLO | Divorce Lawyers Omaha

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If you are looking for an attorney in a child support case, divorce, or DUI in Omaha, Nebraska, or the surrounding areas (including Papillion, Bellevue, Gretna, Elkhorn, Lincoln, Nebraska City, Sarpy, Lancaster), contact our office to set up a consultation.

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The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.