What Happens if a Divorce Respondent Doesn't Answer in Missouri?

By Beverly Bird

A spouse might refuse to acknowledge divorce papers for any number of reasons. He might hope that if he ignores them, they'll go away. He might mistakenly believe that if he doesn't respond, he can block the divorce. In Missouri, neither of these assumptions is true. If the respondent doesn't answer a petition for divorce, the divorce will happen anyway, sometimes with very unfavorable consequences to him.

Time to Respond

Under Missouri law, the respondent – the spouse on the receiving end of the petition for dissolution of marriage – has 30 days to act to protect his interests after he's served with the paperwork. At some point during this period, he must file an answer with the court if he wants to object to anything his spouse is asking for in the petition, such as custody, parenting time, support, debt division or property distribution. His answer serves as notice to the court that he wants to be actively involved in deciding these issues. If he doesn't file an answer, this tells the court he's in agreement with everything his spouse has asked for, and the court no longer has any legal obligation to include him or serve him with notice of any aspect of the divorce proceedings.

Requesting Default

After 30 days, the petitioning spouse has the right to proceed with an uncontested divorce if the respondent doesn't answer. She can file a "default and inquiry" request with the court and the court will schedule the matter for a final hearing. A copy of the request must be delivered to the responding spouse, just as the divorce petition was served on him. This is effectively his last opportunity to take action.

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

Default Hearing

At the default hearing, one of two things will occur. The respondent might appear and ask to be heard on the issues, even though he didn't file an answer. Missouri courts typically won't grant a default divorce if this happens. The judge might order a continuance of the proceedings, giving the respondent additional time to file his answer so the divorce can move forward along normal channels. If he doesn't appear, the court is likely to award the petitioner everything she asked for in her petition for dissolution. However, she's limited to requesting things she mentioned in that initial document. She typically can't appear at the hearing and suddenly ask for alimony because her spouse never responded and he can't defend himself against the request.

Respondent's Recourse

Missouri law allows a defaulting respondent one year to attempt to undo the damage that occurred when he didn't answer the divorce petition. He can file a motion with the court during that time, asking the judge to set aside the default and effectively start the divorce over again, this time with his participation. If he acts within a year, and if he has a compelling reason for having not answered the petition, the court may vacate the default. After a year's time, however, it's unlikely his motion would be successful.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
What Happens in Minnesota If a Divorce Becomes Defaulted?


Related articles

What to Do If Your Spouse Filed an Uncontested Divorce & You Did Not Know?

A divorce doesn't start out as uncontested – it ends that way. In most states, uncontested simply means that spouses have reached an agreement on all issues so they can divorce without a trial. In some states, however, it can also mean that the defending spouse has done nothing toward taking an active part in the proceedings. If this happens to you because you're unaware that your spouse has filed for divorce, you often have recourse.

The Time Frame to Adjudicate Divorce Default in New York

A default divorce occurs when the defendant receives notice that his spouse has filed for divorce and he does nothing about it. If your spouse doesn’t officially defend against your divorce complaint, either by objecting to its grounds or to your requests for custody, support and property distribution, New York law allows you to proceed with the divorce anyway by filing for default. If you act promptly to submit all your required paperwork, you can conceivably complete the entire default divorce process within three months.

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

How Many Days Does a Respondent Have in a Divorce in New York State?

Like most civil litigation, a divorce in New York state begins with the filing of a civil complaint and summons in the ...

Define Contested Divorce

If you can’t reach an agreement with your spouse regarding how to end your marriage, your divorce is contested. ...

How Do I File a Response to Divorce Papers?

The emotion of a divorce is often further complicated by the legal labyrinth you find yourself trying to navigate after ...

Do Both Parties Have to Sign the Divorce Papers?

Different kinds of divorce papers can be as numerous as the problems they address and the functions they serve. Only a ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED