How to File a Written Answer to a Divorce Petition

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

How to File a Written Answer to a Divorce Petition

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

When someone initiates the divorce process, they file a legal document called a divorce petition with the court in the county and state where they seek a divorce. The other spouse then has a set period of time, as determined by state law, to respond by filing a written answer. If your spouse serves you with divorce papers, filing a timely response can help protect your interests.

Frustrated man reading paperwork

1. Verify the requirements and deadlines for filing your written response.

Each state's laws dictate the form and deadlines for written answers to divorce petitions. Understand your state's rules before beginning to give yourself enough time to focus on your answer. In some states, respondents have 21 days to respond, where other states allow for a 30-day response window.

Your state or county may offer preprinted response forms for divorce cases. If not, review the information you received with the divorce papers to ensure your response meets the court's requirements.

2. Review the divorce petition carefully.

In the divorce petition, your spouse provided basic information about your marriage and family and asked the court to end your marriage. The divorce petition is the document in which your spouse also asked for what he or she wanted out of the divorce, including:

  • Division of assets and liabilities
  • Child custody determinations
  • Child or spousal maintenance/support

Before you provide a written response, review each section of the petition carefully so you understand the information your spouse gave the court and can plan your response appropriately.

3. Prepare and sign your written answer.

Because your written answer is your opportunity to challenge or rebut information contained in your spouse's filing, you should address each element of your spouse's filing and indicate whether you agree or disagree with it. If you disagree, you can provide your own information for the court's consideration.

If your state provides preprinted response forms, simply go through each item on the form to provide your answers. Otherwise, your divorce attorney can help you prepare a written answer to each item in the initial petition.

When your written answer is complete, sign it and have a notary public witness your signature if your state requires notarization.

4. File your response with the court before the deadline.

Mail or physically take your written response to the clerk of courts in the county where your spouse filed the initial divorce petition. Check your state's and county's requirements, as you may need to file additional forms such as a financial disclosure form when you file your written response. You may also be able to file your response and other documents electronically.

In most cases, expect to pay a filing fee to the county clerk of courts when you file your response. If you are unable to pay this fee, you may qualify for a fee waiver.

When filing a written answer to a divorce petition, you must also provide legal notice, called service of process, of your filing and a copy of your response to your spouse. Check with your state or county clerk of courts to understand and meet this additional requirement.

It is important to file a complete and timely written answer to your divorce petition. Failure to do so could mean your spouse obtains a divorce on the terms he or she wants, and those terms may not be in your or your children's best interests.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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