How Do I File a Response to Divorce Papers?

By Beverly Bird

The emotion of a divorce is often further complicated by the legal labyrinth you find yourself trying to navigate after you're served with papers. This is especially true if you decide to proceed on your own, without an attorney. Law is famous for its complicated terms, rules and requirements. When your spouse serves you with divorce papers, you usually have a minimum of three different options to respond, depending on the laws of your particular state.

Time Limits

You won’t have an indefinite period of time within which to respond to your spouse’s divorce papers. Some states, such as Florida, give you as little as 20 days. Others, like New Jersey, are more generous and allow you 35 days. Some states count weekends; others count only business days. Your divorce papers should come with a summons or citation. Read this document carefully; it will most likely mention your time limit. If it doesn’t, call the court where your spouse filed her divorce complaint or petition to find out how much time you have.

Appearance or Answer

Your next challenge is to decide how you’re going to respond to your spouse’s papers. State laws vary, so call the court or check your state’s website to find out what avenues are open to you. You should also be able to find the required forms on the website. One option is to file an appearance. This is generally a one-page form telling the court which aspects of your spouse’s complaint you agree with, which you don’t agree with and that you want the opportunity to dispute the parts you object to. A second option is to file a document called an answer, which is similar to an appearance, but it goes into more detail about your objections.

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

Counterclaim

Another option is to file a counterclaim to your spouse’s divorce complaint. This is essentially your own version of a divorce complaint. Your spouse had the opening salvo, but now you get to fire back and present your own case, if you choose to. If you object to your spouse's ground for divorce, such as if she’s accusing you of adultery, you can ask the court to dismiss her ground and grant the divorce on your own ground instead. If she’s asking the court to award her full custody of your children, you can ask the court to deny her request and give you custody instead. It’s generally common for a divorce complaint or petition to ask for extreme relief, because if your spouse doesn’t ask for these things at the outset, it’s legally difficult for her to change her mind later and ask for more. You can object to what she's asking for in an appearance or answer, but you can ask for your own relief in a counterclaim.

Other Options

The law doesn’t obligate you to do anything in response to your spouse’s divorce papers, but if you don’t, she will probably proceed without you, by default, and the court will give her everything she asked for. It’s usually in your best interest to do something. If you’re unsure about how you want to proceed, consult with an attorney to get advice regarding the particulars of your case. If you run out of time and your deadline is near, in some states you can simply appear at the courthouse on the last day and verbally object to your spouse’s petition. At best, however, this may only buy you a little more time to file a written response.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
What Is a Counterclaim for Divorce?
 

References

Related articles

Can the Opposing Party File for Decree of Divorce?

An opposing party in a divorce case is called the respondent, because he responds to the initial petition that begins the divorce process. Some states require a complaint for divorce rather than a petition. In that case, the opposing party is called the defendant. The respondent, or defendant, can file for his own divorce decree by filing a cross-petition for divorce, also sometimes called a counterclaim. When a respondent files his own cross-petition he might have to pay a filing fee, but initiating his own divorce case allows him to present his side of the story in greater detail than is allowed by simply responding to his spouse's paperwork.

How Soon Can I Get a Divorce After a Spouse is Served in Texas?

As in most states, how quickly you can get a Texas divorce depends on how complicated your divorce is, not how much time passes after you serve your spouse with the necessary divorce paperwork. Texas imposes a waiting period, but if you and your spouse have no property or children, or if you agree on every aspect of how you're going to end your marriage, you could be divorced a day after the waiting period ends. If you can't reach an agreement, your divorce will take much longer.

Can the Respondent Finalize a Divorce if the Petitioner Won't Sign?

Sometimes a spouse files for divorce only to find out that the process is not going exactly the way she anticipated. She might realize that a court isn’t likely to grant her everything she asked for in her petition, or that you won’t agree to everything she wants in a marital settlement agreement. However, once the proceedings are under way, there’s only so much she can do to stall them. This is true even if she was the one who filed for divorce first.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

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

Your spouse is required to serve you with divorce papers after she files for divorce, including her divorce petition, ...

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 ...

The Response to a Petition for Dissolution

Getting served with a petition for dissolution or divorce is unnerving at best, even if you're expecting it. You may ...

What Is a Default Judgment in Divorce in Michigan?

In Michigan and elsewhere, a default judgment is what happens when one spouse doesn’t participate in a divorce. The law ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED