When your spouse files for divorce, the petition has to be served on you, usually with a summons to appear in court. How you choose to respond to the petition depends on how you feel about the divorce, your spouse's proposed terms and your personal goals. If you and your spouse live in different states, there might also be legal reasons to challenge the jurisdiction of the court in which the divorce was filed. The person responding to a divorce petition is usually called the respondent.
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Calculate deadline. If the deadline to respond is not explicitly provided on the petition or summons, you must calculate it based on the laws of your state. If a hearing has already been scheduled in the matter, the deadline is usually shortly prior to the hearing. The deadline is often 30 days or six weeks.
Challenge jurisdiction (optional). Send a letter to the court challenging its jurisdiction. If you do not live in the state in which the petition was filed or have significant ties there, the court cannot order you to do anything. If you have children that do not have significant ties to the state, or if another state's court has already taken jurisdiction over your children, the court probably cannot order custody of the children.
Obtain the answer form. Obtain the answer or respondent form from a court of the state in which the petition was filed. Most are available online, but they can also be obtained and filed in person at the courthouse.
Consent to the divorce. Complete the answer form by consenting to the parts of the petition with which you agree. This does not necessarily mean you agree on everything, however.
Contest the divorce. In states that do not have no-fault divorce laws, you can contest the grounds for the divorce by denying specific allegations on the answer form. Regardless of no-fault divorce laws, you can also contest the terms of the divorce, such as division of property, payment of alimony or child custody.
Tips and warnings
- A considerable portion of filling out the response form will be gathering information about the spouses and the marriage itself. This provides the respondent with an opportunity to contest any erroneous facts in the original petition. Many states have no-fault divorce, which means the grounds for the divorce itself cannot be challenged. In states that preserve fault divorce, the specific grounds can be challenged by denying the allegations in the petition and appearing in court at the date on the summons with evidence disproving the allegations. A common outcome in many divorces is a settlement agreement, or stipulation, in which the spouses jointly present the terms of the divorce. Usually, however, this occurs after some negotiation or mediation after the respondent asserts terms in the answer form.
- One option is ignore the petition and do not file anything in court. If you do this, however, you will most likely lose any right to contest the divorce or its terms, or to present your side of the story. If you do contest the divorce and there is a significant amount of property or child custody at stake, it's highly recommended that you consult an attorney instead of representing yourself.
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