How to Respond to Divorce Papers in Massachusetts

by Shannon Johnson

    So, your spouse has just served you with divorce papers? Even if you were expecting them, staring at a divorce petition is a reality check. No need to panic. Filing a proper response to divorce papers in Massachusetts requires that you carefully read the divorce petition, draft a response and adhere to the rules governing the process.


    Generally speaking, you must respond to a divorce complaint within 20 days from the day you receive it. In most types of court cases, failure to respond would result in a default judgment, which could mean that the person filing the complaint is awarded everything he or she requested. However, unlike in other types of lawsuits in Massachusetts, failing to respond to a divorce complaint in a timely manner will not result in default. However, even with this rule, it is always more prudent to file a response to a divorce petition.


    An answer is the simplest way to respond to a divorce complaint. Make sure to read each paragraph of the complaint carefully so you are responding as accurately as possible to each allegation raised. If the divorce complaint alleges fault grounds, you should also include any defenses you might have in the answer. For example, a valid defense may be your spouse condoned your actions.

    Answer and Counterclaim

    You have the right to include a counterclaim in your answer to the divorce petition. A counterclaim is your chance to tell the court your side of the facts, to include any grounds you may have for wanting the divorce and what you are seeking from the divorce. For example, if your spouse petitions for full custody, you could counterclaim, asking the court to grant full custody to you. Another example of a potential counterclaim is requesting alimony payments or a portion of the marital estate treated as premarital property and awarded to you.

    Filing and Serving the Response

    Check your answer or answer/counterclaim to make sure you have responded to every allegation raised in the complaint, corresponding your responses to match the complaint paragraphs. Sign and date the response, make copies for yourself and for your spouse then file it in with the clerk of court. In addition, you will have to file a Certificate of Service. The Certificate of Service is where you swear under penalty of perjury that you have sent a copy of your response to your spouse, or spouse’s attorney, via regular mail, certified mail or personal delivery.

    About the Author

    Shannon Johnson graduated from Mercer University School of Law in 2000. She practiced law for five years before beginning her writing career. She currently writes for several legal and non-legal online publications. Johnson has also taught legal research and writing, music business law and entertainment law.

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