By Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz, MA LMFT

Law: the only game where the best players get to sit on the bench.
~Author Unknown

Divorce mediators often cite as one of the advantages of mediated, or uncontested, divorce that you never need to go to court. While that is generally correct, it doesn’t mean you avoid the court process. Instead of “going” to court, you file the various court forms required to obtain a legal divorce (or legal separation). The purpose of the mediation is to negotiate an agreement on all the issues that need to be addressed in a divorce. At the end of the negotiation, a summary of the agreements is prepared, followed by a Marital Settlement Agreement (or Stipulation). There is no requirement the court be involved up to this point. But, to give effect to the agreements, the final documents have to be approved by a judge.

For some, the paperwork is a bit overwhelming and couples look for options to assume that task. Many mediators will manage the court documents. There are also document preparation companies that can help. Sometimes, before an agreement is signed, the attorney reviewing the agreement may be asked to manage the paperwork.

What are some of the papers needed to get divorced?

  • The Petition (this is one of the first papers filed which starts the divorce and states what the person filing (Petitioner) would like the court to do).

  • The Response (this is filed by the spouse (Respondent) and tells the court what they would like the court to do).

  • Schedule of Assets and Debts and Income and Expense Declaration (these are documents prepared for delivery by each spouse to the other in which everything the parties know about the finances are shared with each other)

  • The judgment (this is where the agreement between the parties is attached so the judge can review – and usually sign – leading to a final divorce (or legal separation).

While there are many other technical forms to file, these key forms outline what is requested, identifies the resources for distribution, and lays out the plan for children and support. You may never need to go to court, but to the court the agreements must go.

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