Being served with a divorce citation, or summons, often results in hurt and anger. However, you need to keep a cool head and decide if and how to answer the petition. This answer is a specific document filed with the court, in which you respond to the statements made in the petition. The amount of time you have to respond varies from state to state, but it is usually no more than 30 days.
The answer to a divorce citation contains your response to each statement, or allegation, contained in the petition that accompanies the citation. The answer should be in the form of numbered paragraphs in which you specifically admit or deny the information in each paragraph of the petition. At the end of the answer there should be a section in which you ask the court to grant or deny the divorce and other relief the petition requested, such as alimony or child custody. You must file your answer with the court and serve it on your spouse.
It may not seem necessary to file an answer in a divorce when you and your spouse agree on all the issues, including the cause of the marital split, marital debts and assets, financial support and child custody. However, answering the petition puts the court on notice that you want to be involved in the process. Even if your answer agrees with everything your spouse is asking for in the divorce, after you file an answer the court is required to notify you of all hearings scheduled in the case.
Answering the citation is crucial in a contested divorce when you and your spouse disagree on the cause of the divorce or on how the issues should be settled. Your answer should admit the parts of the petition that are true, but deny the statements that are false. Legally, you agree with everything you do not specifically deny. It is common to add a counterclaim or cross-bill in a contested case, in which you spell out your version of the case and make claims against your spouse. For example, if your spouse states that you are an unfit parent and she should have sole custody, you might make a statement about the fitness of her as a parent and ask for custody yourself.
If you are served with a divorce citation and you do not answer within the time specified on the citation or summons, your spouse can ask the court for a default judgment. A default judgment means that your spouse can proceed in the case against you without your participation and the court can rule in her favor. However, courts in most states will allow the defendant in a divorce case to testify at a final hearing despite the default judgment.