The term “divorce papers” does not have a precise definition.  The term encompasses all paperwork needed for the divorce process. It is important to understand what the actual name of each individual document is called and what each document is used for. Any documents that are used may be called a “divorce paper” until the divorce decree, which finalizes the divorce. Other papers such as child custody and parenting time orders can also be part of the process.


In the official divorce process in Minnesota, the first document used to start the divorce proceedings is called a “Summons.”  This document informs both parties that they are not to harass the other, they may not change or cancel any insurance policies or change any beneficiaries to the policies. It also states that neither partner may unload any properties unless it is necessary for living expenses or to pay for their lawyer. This document helps to preserve assets until details are decided in the divorce proceedings.

Petition for Dissolution of Marriage

The document accompanying the “Summons” is known as the “Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage”.  The Petition includes all the important facts of the marriage. For example, the Petition will list marital and non-marital property, minor children, and any debt. The document typically asks for a resolution of sorts; for example, custody of children, child support and division of property. This document, along with the “Summons”, is personally served on the other spouse.  That spouse has 30 days to respond with a “Answer and Counter-Petition.”  Having the “Summons” and “Petition” presented by a third party is often referred to as “presenting divorce papers”.

Answer and Counter-Petition

This document is a written response to the “Summons” and Petition for Dissolution of Marriage”. The “Answer” contains factual information and background and the responding actions to the requests of the originating party; for example, child support and custody. This “Answer” must be served within 30 days from the date the party was first served with the “Petition”. The party may obtain an extension in written form in order to consult an attorney.  If a party fails to provide an “Answer” within 30 days, the court may grant a Default Judgment.

Divorce Process

After the “Summons” and “Petition”, and the responding “Answer”, there will be additional stages in the divorce process. The stages can be complex and create additional documents, particularly if several hearings are necessary.  The process will eventually end with a Divorce Decree, either by agreement of the parties or decision by the Court.

Divorce Decree

The Divorce Decree is the document that finalizes the divorce and dissolves the marriage. The divorce decree will cover property division, custody and visitation, child support and alimony payments. Documents which describe specific details may be produced, particularly during negotiations to arrange details for child custody and visitation. The “Divorce Decree” is at this point the primary document, but each related document is important for the topics which it addresses.

It is important to permanently retain all documents in a safe place.  You should also keep proof of child support payments and spousal maintenance in case of future dispute.

Our Minnesota divorce attorneys can explain the process and documents which are required for your situation. Contact us for an evaluation.

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