Responding to a Divorce Petition

Responding to a divorce petition in a timely manner is important after you’ve been served with divorce papers.

The spouse who files the initial divorce paperwork with the court is called the petitioner. The divorce petition must then be legally served on the other spouse, who is called the respondent. In turn, the respondent must answer the divorce petition within a certain time frame. This response tells the court which terms of the divorce petition the respondent agrees or disagrees with.

If you have been served divorce papers, failing to respond may result in your spouse receiving a default divorce. By defaulting, you'll be bound by the settlement stipulations as outlined in the original petition with no means to contest anything. How long you have to file a divorce response depends on which state you live in, but the time frame should be noted on the original petition.

If you disagree to the provisions of the divorce petition, you will need to address those issues that you dispute. If you agree to the provisions as they are presented in the petition, you can file an Answer and Waiver to the Petition, and the divorce will proceed uncontested.

If you still have questions about responding to a divorce petition, these FAQs can help shed some more light on the subject.

Answers by Brette Sember, J.D.

Responding to a Divorce Petition FAQs

How do you respond to the divorce papers?

Sonia's Question: My husband filed divorce papers and I received them last week. What do I need to do now?

Brette's Answer: You need to answer within the time frame allotted or you will be in default. You need to find out what papers your court requires you to file as an answer or response. Check the state court web site or go to the county clerk's office and ask for the form and what to expect if you don't have an attorney. You should be able to simply answer and deny or contest what he has asked for without adding details. You can make also make requests of your own (counterclaims).

How do I file and serve an answer to the divorce petition?

Katheryn's Question: I received my divorce papers today and I don't understand what I need to do. What is a 'CASE MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE ORDER" and how do we exchange financial statements? Also, how do I file and serve an answer? It also it states that the Petitioner shall obtain service of the Petition on the Respondent.

Brette: You should get a lawyer who can help you take the next steps. A case management conference is basically a meeting to see if a settlement can be reached. Financial statements are affidavits which must be filed in every divorce. Your state will have a specific form that must be used. Ask your attorney or if you do not have one, ask the court clerk. The form may be available on your state court web site. An answer is your response to the papers you received. Again, get the form from the clerk or online. Service just means that the person who filed the papers has proof you received them.

What is the consent to divorce and jurisdiction form?

Maggie's Question: My husband filed uncontested divorce and his lawyer has asked him to make me sign the "consent to divorce and jurisdiction" form. What will happen if I don't sign this form?

Brette's Answer: You don't have to sign anything. It sounds like it is a form saying you are not contesting the divorce. It would be wise to have an attorney review anything before you sign it.

What if I don't agree with the divorce papers I received?

Erica's Question: If I don’t agree with the divorce papers, what do I need to tell them at the court house and what can I do to make a different agreement and terms to send to him?

Brette's Answer: The best thing to do is get an attorney who can help you. If you don't agree, you need to file a response and you can look at your state court web site or go to the courthouse to get the right form to do that. 

Can I file my response in a different county?

Rebekah's Question: Do I have to file my response in the same county court as my spouse. I moved and was wondering if I can I file my answer in my county?

Brette's Answer: You have to file it in the same county. If you want to change venue you should talk to an attorney. 

Do I need to respond if we both filed for divorce at the same time?

April's Question: I was served with divorce papers one day, and the next I served him with divorce papers. Do I still need to respond to his, or can my filing be considered the response?

Brette's Answer: They're two separate cases until the court combines them into one. Someone needs to ask the court to combine them. You should consult an attorney about filing an answer, but until the cases are combined, they proceed separately and an answer would be required.

Is there a date I should look for on the papers that were served?

Desarae's Question: How can I determine whether it was legal separation or divorce papers that were served to me? Is there a date on there that I should look for?

Brette's Answer: They will clearly say divorce or separation on them at the top - "action for a divorce" for example. There should be a date you need to respond by. Good luck.

How long do I have to file a response to the divorce petition?

Nelda's Question: I paid an attorney to file for a change of venue because my husband filed for divorce in a country we have never lived in. It has been 3 months since the request was filed and nothing has been done. I did not respond to the original divorce paperwork as I was waiting on the change of venue to go through. A week ago I received default paperwork and I filed my response. What should I do about the status of the change of venue request? Secondly, how long do you have to file a response once a motion for default has been filed?

Brette's Answer: Deadlines vary from state to state, so you need to consult the attorney you hired. It seems to me you ought to call the attorney who filed the change of venue paperwork and leave an URGENT message. It is his responsibility to get this straightened out. He needs to make sure the change of venue motion is heard. Failure to follow up on that is an ethical violation on his part. Good luck.

What can I do if I'm running out of time to respond?

Question: I am visually impaired and cannot read over documents. My husband had me served legal separation papers and then told me he thought they were meant for him. He kept them for several days before his paralegal friend told him they were actually my served copy and he should return them to me. He did and I had a trusted person read them to me. They talk about my having 20 days to contest them, but the time is almost up. I'm trying to get a lawyer through a state program. My question is was the way I was served the papers valid? If I get a lawyer after the 20 days will I still be able to contest this document?

Brette's Answer: In many states, service can be done by alternate methods. You will need to check your state laws or consult with an attorney to determine if the service was valid. It is much easier if you get a lawyer immediately and enter some kind of response before the time limit is up. You may have an argument as to when you really were served, but it's best not to chance it. If an attorney is not assigned to you quickly enough, have a friend go with you to the courthouse to fill out a generic response or to request a delay.

Can I ask the court for more time to prepare my response?

Stephanie's Question: I have been served with divorce papers. I have 2 days to submit a response and I am lost. Can I ask the courts for more time to prepare? If so, what form or letter do I submit to the courts?

Brette's Answer: Every state has different forms and requirements. First look to see if there is an actual appearance scheduled in court. If so, you can simply go and appear that way. If not, you can check your state court system web site to see if there is a section about divorce that will provide forms or answer questions. If not, call your court clerk's office and ask them what you need to do to get a postponement, or if you need to file some kind of appearance regardless.

What happens after I file my response to the divorce petition?

Margie's Question: If I am responding to a divorce petition Pro Se, what will happen after I file my response? I am not contesting the divorce, but assets and child custody.

Brette's Answer: After you file it, you will likely have a court appearance where the judge will encourage some settlement talks. Discovery happens. If there is no settlement, you move toward a trial.

What if I don't respond to the divorce petition?

Kim's Question: I was served with divorce papers and only have 20 days to respond. What would happen if I don't respond? Also, will I receive a copy of the divorce if I don't respond?

Brette's Answer: Do not fail to respond! If you do not respond to the petition or appear at the hearing, the divorce will end up proceeding as uncontested - which means you will have no input in it. As a result, the judge for your divorce will issue his decision based solely on what your husband says or proves. Once the divorce has been finalized, your state law most likely requires that a copy of the decision be sent to you.

What happens if he hasn't responded to the petition?

Crystal's Question: I had my husband served with divorce papers. I called to check on the docket and they told me they were waiting for my husband to serve me with his response to the papers. I served him over two months ago! How long can he hold everything up?

Brette's Answer: There is a time limit for responding to a divorce petition. You need to find out what that is and if it has passed, you need to ask the court to schedule an appearance to move forward. You can call the court clerk and ask about the process. Check your state court web site to see if your state rules are explained there.

How can I push the divorce along if I didn't respond to the petition?

Aubrey's Question: I was told by the county clerk that once the initial 30 days passed and I had not contested the papers, that the next step involved two more steps my soon-to-be ex still had to do. They also said that if he didn't follow up, eventually the case would stall and be dismissed for "no action." What can I do get the divorce over with?

Brette's Answer: Since he filed the papers, he has to file the papers for the hearing. It's completely up to him. Since you did not respond, you are not a party to the case at this point and can do nothing.

What if my husband answered the complaint for divorce and I don’t agree?

Brette's Answer: Then your divorce is contested and it will proceed through the court process. It will likely be scheduled for a pre-trial hearing where the court will try to help you reach a settlement. If you do not have an attorney, you should get one. 

How long do I have to contest the terms on the divorce petition?

April's Question: We've been separated for one year. If I was served divorce papers 17 days ago, how long do I have to contest the terms on the divorce?

Brette's Answer: This varies by state. You should talk to an attorney to get information about all of your rights.

What if I sent the original response form instead of a copy?

Johnnie's Question: I'm contesting my divorce from my husband. I responded to the questionnaire and mailed it to his attorney within the 30 days as requested. I submitted the original copy instead of a copy, and don't have the original to file with the court. Now his attorney sent a letter saying I failed to respond. Will most judges allow the copies in the court on the day of the hearing?

Brette's Answer: Most judges would allow you to ask the attorney to swap the original with the copy if it matters to the court. I would file the copy for now so that you have responded. You could always sign a new original signature on it if that is the issue. If you do not have an attorney, I recommend you talk with one. Since your husband has one, it puts you at a disadvantage.

How do I withdraw my initial response and file a new one?

Katie's Question: I am the respondent in my divorce case. I have already filed my response and request. However, I would like to change my response to ask for attorney's fees. How might I do that as I am representing myself?

Brette's Answer: You amend it by submitted an amended response. Talk to the court clerk's office. They can tell you what forms to file. Good luck.

Do you need proof of who signed the response papers?

Kenya's Question: How do you know if your husband was the one who actually signed the papers if you just have the papers sent to his house?

Brette's Answer: Usually these types of papers need to be notarized and a notary requires proof of identity. If notarization is not required, I would assume you might recognize your husband's signature. And secondly, if papers are sent to him and are signed and returned, you would assume it was his signature unless you had some reason to believe otherwise. If he didn't sign them, it would be up to him to prove he did not.

What if he doesn't respond to the divorce petition?

Dorothy's Question: What happens after you serve your husband with divorce papers? He only has a few days to sign the papers, but he has already told me he isn't going to sign them. I'd like to know what the next step is.

Brette's Answer: You have a court appearance and if he is a no show, then the case proceeds from there as uncontested.

What if he disappears after filing his response?

Jo Anne's Question: Neither party is contesting the divorce but my soon-to-be-ex is stupid and filed the response papers looking like he is contesting the divorce. He thinks he is divorced and is planning to remarry soon. I can't locate him because he moved to another state. How do I get a divorce after he has filed the paper and has disappeared?

Brette's Answer: The court will schedule dates, he won't appear, and eventually the case will move on without him.

How do I respond to the divorce papers if I live outside the US?

Jenny's Question: My husband and I reached an agreement about child custody, support, and alimony before I moved overseas. After the move, we agreed to get a divorce, which his lawyer is handling. The paperwork that my husband sent me includes a Waiver of Service of Summons, the Complaint, and some other attachments. His lawyer says that the case can't begin until I sign the waiver of service form, but I'm reluctant because the Complaint is totally different from our original agreement. I feel like my husband and his lawyer both have lied to me. Should I sign it, and if I do, what will happen?

Brette's Answer: You need to find a lawyer in the States who can review the documents for you. Contact the bar association in the state the divorce will be filed in and ask for a referral. You can conduct your business via phone, email and mail with the attorney, but you will need to pay a retainer fee. No one can advise you without seeing the actual papers and reading exactly what they say. I would recommend that you not sign anything until you can consult with an attorney hired to represent your best interests. Good luck.

How long after I file my response will my divorce be finalized?

Jackie's Question: I have been served with an action for divorce. I responded, and have not heard anything since. How long do I have to wait for my divorce to be final?

Brette's Answer: Call the court clerk and ask where in the process it is and when it might be finalized.

What if the petition doesn't include both his former and current name?

Beth's Question: My husband had a name change because he became a U.S. citizen, but still has his original name on the assets. His petition only states his current name. How do I address this in the response and how much will it affect the issues?

Brette's Answer: You simply ask that the court include assets under his current and former name in the proceeding. It shouldn't be a big deal.


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