What's the Difference Between a Petition and a Stipulated Judgment and Decree?

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In Minnesota, divorce is formally referred to as “dissolution of marriage,” and the terms are used interchangeably. There are documents required to start a Minnesota divorce and to conclude it, and other documents that may need to be filed in between. All this paperwork can be confusing for someone encountering the Minnesota divorce process for the first time. At Mundahl Law, we are sometimes asked, “What’s the difference between a Petition and a Stipulated Judgment and Decree?”

Understanding the Petition for Dissolution

The answer is that the Petition for Divorce is the document used to begin the divorce process. This essential document gives the basic facts of the case, identifying the spouses, any minor children, and their place of residence (which determines that they may get a divorce in Minnesota and which court has jurisdiction to hear the case). The Petition also states that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, and includes a “prayer for relief” that requests the division of the marital property and may include requests for child support, spousal maintenance, and more, depending on the circumstances. The spouse filing the petition must sign the petition attesting to its truthfulness.

If you and your spouse both agree to seek the divorce, and you meet the criteria for an uncontested divorce, you can file a Joint Petition for Dissolution. Doing so allows you to streamline the divorce procedure and avoid the possibility of a trial.  

There is also a shortened process for a summary dissolution if you and your spouse file jointly and have the following facts:   You and your spouse must state in your petition that you have no minor children; the wife is not pregnant; you and your spouse do not have debts, assets, or real estate worth more than $25,000; there is no history of domestic violence in the marriage; and that you and your spouse have been married for less than eight years.

What is a Stipulated Judgment and Decree?

Even if you and your spouse file a Joint Petition for Dissolution, a separate document is required to finalize your divorce. For couples who agree on the terms of their divorce (even if they didn’t file a Joint Petition), this is typically a Stipulated Judgment and Decree.

The Judgment and Decree officially orders the end of the marriage and sets forth its terms: how property will be divided, whether there will be spousal maintenance, how the children will spend time with each parent, and so forth. “Stipulated” means that the spouses agree to the terms of their divorce.

If you and your spouse have reached agreement on the details of your divorce, one of your attorneys will prepare the Stipulated Judgment and Decree. You and your spouse will both sign it, along with your attorneys, and the document will be presented to the court. When it is signed by the judge or referee, it becomes an order and judgment.

A Stipulated Judgment and Decree is, in effect, a binding contract between you and your now ex-spouse. Therefore, it is critically important to make sure that you understand and agree with all of its terms. It is nearly impossible to change the terms of a Stipulated Judgment and Decree after the fact, and you may have to abide by those terms for years. It is better to negotiate terms that are more favorable than to sign a questionable stipulation “just to have it over with.” We understand that if the divorce process has been stressful and grueling, it is tempting to sign off on an agreement and just make it all go away. Unfortunately, you may come to regret that later.

If you have questions about the Minnesota divorce process or negotiating the terms of your divorce, contact Mundahl Law. We will be happy to discuss the facts of your situation and how Minnesota law applies to your case, and to help you negotiate a divorce on terms that are favorable to you.  

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