If you have been served with a divorce petition, you must make answering the divorce petition a priority. The spouse who files for divorce is known as the “petitioner.” The other party to the marriage is known as the “respondent” in the divorce.
There are deadlines to take into consideration when answering a divorce petition. These deadlines vary from state to state and county to county, so you will want to consult with the clerk of court or an attorney in your state who specializes in family law to ensure you are answering the divorce petition within the rules of the court. In addition, when the respondent receives a copy of the petition, it is accompanied by a summons. The summons sets forth the deadline for filing an answer to the petition.
Answering the petition
The respondent has a few options when considering how to answer the divorce petition. In most states, there are three choices: he or she can do nothing, file an answer, or ask for more time to respond. Each of these options has legal consequences. Therefore, it is important to speak with an attorney licensed in your state if you want to obtain advice specific to your situation.
1) Do nothing (or answer and waiver)
If the petitioner does nothing, or if he or she fails to respond within the time period required by law, the divorce will move forward. When this happens, the court will consider the divorce petition to be uncontested. “Uncontested” means that the respondent, by not answering at all, agreed to everything presented in the divorce petition. Generally, this will result in the petitioner getting everything requested in the petition.
If the petitioner agrees with all the terms and conditions set forth in the petition, he or she can file an answer and waiver. To “answer and waive” means that after reviewing the petition, the respondent does not disagree with, or contest, anything contained in that petition. As a result, the marriage will likely be dissolved in accordance to what is set forth in the divorce petition.
2) File an answer and dispute parts or all of the petition
If you have been served with a divorce petition and you disagree with some or all of the terms set out in that petition, you can file an answer. In your answer, you must address everything that is presented in the divorce petition and specifically address whether you agree or disagree with each issue presented. In most states, if you fail to address a claim of the petitioner, the court will presume that you agree with that claim.
3) Request additional time to respond
There are hard deadlines for filing an answer to a divorce petition. You can request an extension to file your response if you feel you need more time. Generally speaking, this request must be approved by the court before the current deadline. Let the court know why you would like to extend the deadline. If your request is approved, the court will give you a new deadline to file your answer. But be careful, requests are commonly disapproved; you cannot count on receiving an extension.
If the court does not grant your request for additional time to respond, you must file an answer to the divorce petition within the original time period. Your answer can usually be amended at a later date, and it is more important that you do not waive your rights by not answering at all.
Amending your answer
There are several reasons you might want to amend, or change your original answer to the divorce petition. If you discover that your interests are not being properly addressed by your original answer, or if you answered the divorce petition before you obtained an attorney, you can often talk with your attorney about amending the answer to ensure that your interests are being properly represented. If you do obtain an attorney, you should make sure to hire one that is licensed to practice law in the state of the divorce proceedings and one who specializes in family law.
The laws and requirements for answering a divorce petition are different in every state. If you need legal advice on an issue of family law, contact an attorney licensed in your state to ensure that you are represented properly.