Can You Just Not Do Anything in a Divorce if You Are the Respondent?

By Heather Frances J.D.

Your spouse is required to serve you with divorce papers after she files for divorce, including her divorce petition, or complaint, and a summons. Generally, the summons lists deadlines for you to respond to the petition or provides scheduling information for your initial appearance in court. If you choose to ignore the summons, the court still may enter a judgment against you.

Responding to a Divorce Petition

All states allow a certain period of time -- usually about a month -- for a spouse to respond to divorce papers. You have various response options. For example, you can file a simple appearance, acknowledging that you got the papers and give consent to the court’s jurisdiction, or you can file an answer registering your agreement - or disagreement - with your spouse’s statements. You may also file an answer and counterclaim combination, in which you answer your spouse’s statements but also make claims of your own.

Doing Nothing

If you wish to dispute something in the paperwork your spouse filed, you typically must file that response within the time allowed. Failing to respond won’t stop your case from going forward. Instead, your spouse can request a default judgment from the court after the period to respond expires, and a default judgment is just as binding on you as any judgment the court may have issued if you had responded.

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Advantages to Your Spouse

When you don’t respond, the judge is likely to order most or all of the things your spouse requested in her divorce petition. The month or so during which you get to submit your response is your chance to explain your side to the court. If you do not take part in the proceedings, you are unable to defend your interests, so the judge only hears your spouse’s side of the story, which often means your spouse gets what she asked for in the original petition. If you do nothing, it may look like you don't disagree with your spouse's petition.

Setting Aside a Default Judgment

If the court enters a default judgment in your case, you may have a limited time and limited ability to set aside -- or reverse -- that judgment. The exact time frames and standards for setting aside the default judgment vary by state. If you do nothing during that limited time, the judgment or divorce decree is final. Special protections apply if you are in the military; for example, your spouse must disclose your military status.

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How to Respond to Divorce Papers in Massachusetts


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Grace Period for a Default Divorce in Missouri

Courts want to give both spouses an opportunity to provide their sides of the story during divorce proceedings, but if one spouse is unresponsive, the other may receive a divorce by default. While Missouri law does not have a specific "grace period" for default divorces, a spouse may ask the court to cancel a default divorce within a reasonable time if he had a good reason for failing to show up or respond to the court documents.

How Long Can You Take to File Response Papers in a Divorce Case in California?

Responding to the receipt of divorce papers is just as important as filing paperwork initiating the divorce. California law provides that in your response in a divorce case, you may address the facts alleged in the initial filing; you may also mention facts not addressed in the initial filing, and you may even make a claim that the court does not have the power to decide the matter. A spouse served with divorce papers ordinarily has 30 days in which to respond in California.

Default Judgments in Kansas in a Divorce

By the time you get ready to file for divorce, you and your spouse may not be getting along well enough to cooperate during the divorce proceeding. Your spouse may decide to ignore the divorce paperwork you filed, thinking that will stop the divorce or make you angry. Unfortunately for your spouse, Kansas courts can grant default judgments in divorce cases, giving you a divorce even when your spouse does not want to participate in the process.

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