In Divorce, What Does It Mean to Have an Answer Filed?

By Rob Jennings J.D.

You just received a complaint, or petition, for divorce from your spouse. Now you need to file an answer to the complaint within a certain amount of time, as dictated by your state's law. A failure to answer on time will be viewed as a default, which means any allegations posed against you may be deemed as evidence, and judgment could be entered against you.


The complaint is the document that truly starts the divorce process. The required contents of a divorce complaint vary by state, but generally a divorce complaint states the parties' place of residence and how long they lived there; the date of the marriage; minor children born of the marriage; property of the marriage; other court actions involving the parties; the date of separation; and whether either party is receiving public assistance. It also asks the court for the relief that the spouse filing the complaints is asking for, such as child support, custody and spousal support.


The answer is a written response to the divorce petition or complaint. It tells the court that you want to be involved in the legal process. It is also a response to the specific allegations of the divorce complaint. Sometimes, response documents are located on your county's judicial services website for you to fill out. If you do not file an answer in the time allotted by law -- usually 20 to 30 days -- the court may take as true the contents of the complaint, and your spouse could obtain the divorce along with almost anything she asked for in the complaint document.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More


When you file a simple notice of appearance, you are just letting the court know that you want to be involved in the legal divorce process and to receive notices regarding scheduling deadlines and hearings. If you do not file a formal answer, but you appear at a scheduled court hearing, you will be allowed to participate in the proceeding because you have entered an appearance by showing up. It is important that you keep the court aware of your current contact information to ensure the court can contact you about important dates, such as future hearings. Remember that a notice of appearance generally doesn't constitute an answer.


The counterclaim is the responding spouse's own complaint for divorce or other relief. If you file a counterclaim and the petitioning spouse has a change of heart and dismisses her complaint, the divorce will still go forward on the basis of the counterclaim. Filing a counterclaim lets the court know what you want and provides a way for you to assert your own claims. In a counterclaim, you can ask the court to order your spouse to pay for alimony, to divide up the marital property, to order your spouse to pay some or all of the marital debts or to give you a part of any pensions or retirement benefits. It also gives you the chance to tell your side of the story to the court. You can use the counterclaim to correct what you believe are errors in the petition. For example, if you disagree with the date of separation your spouse stated in the complaint, you can tell the court what you believe to be the true date.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
How to Divorce in PA After Two Years When a Spouse Does Not Agree on Settlement


Related articles

Documents Needed for the Respondents in a Divorce Summons

Receiving notice that your spouse filed for divorce can be a stressful experience. Most states require that the filing spouse have the other spouse personally served with the divorce paperwork, which typically includes both a summons and complaint. These documents provide a basic outline of the case and explain your initial responsibilities. Knowing how and when you must respond to this paperwork will help ensure your full participation in all aspects of the divorce process.

What Happens if I Ignore Divorce Summons Papers in New York?

The ostrich-like tactic of burying your head in the sand never works in a divorce situation. Depending on the extent of your marital property and whether you have children, ignoring a divorce summons in New York can cause big problems you can’t easily undo. New York law makes it relatively simple for your spouse to go ahead and get a divorce without your cooperation.

What Do I Need to Do to Contest a No-Fault Divorce in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania offers spouses more ways to get divorced than most states. In addition to several fault grounds, the state offers two separate no-fault options. The first and easiest no-fault option involves spouses jointly signing and filing a mutual complaint for divorce, so contesting the process is not an issue. Pennsylvania's other no-fault option is irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, and a spouse can contest these grounds.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

Answering a Citation of Divorce

Being served with a divorce citation, or summons, often results in hurt and anger. However, you need to keep a cool ...

How to Draft a Counter Claim in a Divorce

If your spouse has filed a complaint for divorce, it’s important that you answer it in some fashion. You don’t ...

What Does Notice Mean in Divorce Proceedings?

Spouses have a right to participate in the divorce process. An important part of exercising this right is being made ...

How to Get an Annulment in Arizona

An annulment is the legal recognition by an Arizona court that a marriage is void. In Arizona, an annulment is granted ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED