Skip to content

The First 5 Legal Documents of a Divorce Explained

The First 5 Legal Documents of a Divorce Explained

The flood of legal documents filed at the beginning of a divorce can seem both overwhelming and incomprehensible. These legal documents are often written in thick “legalese,” and their purposes are not always discernable without context.

Here are simple explanations of the five legal documents commonly filed at the beginning of a divorce:

  1. The Complaint

The first legal document filed in a divorce is the “complaint.” The person who files this document is referred to as the “Plaintiff,” while the non-filing spouse is referred to as the “Defendant.” These labels are not significant in terms of legal advantages. The purpose of the complaint is to advise the court that a divorce has been filed and what issues are involved (property division, alimony, children, etc.). Finally, the complaint informs the court what the filing spouse would like to be awarded in the divorce.

  1. The Voluntary Appearance

Once a spouse has filed the complaint, they must alert the non-filing spouse of the pending divorce action. This is often accomplished by providing the non-filing spouse with a copy of the complaint along with a document called the “voluntary appearance.” The non-filing spouse should sign and submit the voluntary appearance to the court, which serves as notice that he or she knows the divorce has been filed. By submitting a voluntary appearance, the non-filing spouse can avoid being served with a copy of the complaint by the sheriff at work or home.

  1. The Answer

Within 30 days of submitting a voluntary appearance or being served by a sheriff, the non-filing spouse must file an “answer” with the court. Just as its name implies, the answer contains the non-filing spouse’s responses to the allegations contained in the complaint. By agreeing with allegations contained in the complaint, this signals to the Court that these allegations are not in dispute between the spouses. By denying allegations contained in the complaint, the answering spouse alerts the court of the issues that may need to be resolved at trial if settlement is not reached.

  1. The Counterclaim

The non-filing spouse may want the court to resolve the divorce differently than what the filing spouse has asked for in the complaint. To ask the court for this different award, the non-filing spouse will submit to the court a document nearly identical to the complaint, which is called a “counterclaim.”

  1. The Reply

Just as the non-filing spouse submits an answer to the complaint, the filing spouse can submit a “reply” to the counterclaim, which either agrees or disagrees with the allegations stated in the counterclaim.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed with the initial legal documents filed in a divorce. Your legal team at Koenig|Dunne is here to explain the nuances of these documents to enlighten and empower your decisions from the beginning of the divorce process to its end.

David Pontier