Your Options to Respond to a Divorce Petition

The law in the United States of America allows for either spouse to terminate a legal relationship by appealing to the court. In California, registered domestic partners or a married couple could terminate the legal marital status six months after filing the first documents in the court. The document copies are sent to the respondent once filed with the court.

Getting served with a divorce petition

If you have been served a divorce petition, then you automatically become the respondent and your first duty is to read the petition papers carefully. The petitioner’s demands are stated in the Form FL-100 (i.e. the petition). Form FL-110 or The Summons (Family Law) will provide critical information regarding your rights as well as the separation/divorce procedure. This document also contains restraining orders that limit the respondent’s options with what they could do with their money, property and other debts or assets.

You could easily compare the divorce procedure to a lawsuit. So when the respondent is served with a dissolution/divorce petition, he/she is being sued. It is important for the respondent to take some action with regards to the petition allegations within a fixed period of time (generally 30 days). Otherwise, they would be giving up their right to fight on various grounds such as child custody, property division and so on.

There are various options available to a respondent with regards to responding to a divorce petition:

  1. Take no action

When a respondent decides to take no action, it means that the demands of the domestic partner or spouse, as mentioned in the divorce petition, would likely be granted. The decision of the judge regarding property, custody (in case the couple has children together) and support will be dependent on what the petitioner has asked for in the divorce petition.

This particular situation is also referred to as a “true default”. The reason is simple: the respondent is “defaulting” because he or she is not taking any action and avoiding any kind of involvement in the case.

  1. Dual response

This happens when the respondent files a legal response in the court while also working out an agreement with their domestic partner/spouse regarding the issues stated in the petition. This is also referred to as an “uncontested” case since there is no fight between the partners regarding the issues, that is, the terms of legal separation or divorce are agreed upon.

  1. File a response in disagreement

In this case, the respondent files a response to the petition in the court while disagreeing with the demands of their domestic partner or spouse. This situation is referred to as a “contested” case because the petitioner and the respondent are not in agreement and require the courts to intervene and take a balanced decision in the case.

Regardless of whether a respondent chooses to respond to a divorce petition or not, it is possible to work on an agreement regarding ending the marriage/legal domestic partnership. The key areas where an agreement needs to be worked out include:

  • Division of property and debt
  • Offering of partner/spousal support
  • Terms of custody, child support and visitation, in case the couple has children together

Sometimes, couples are successful in agreeing on all these issues, and at other times, they may agree on only a few of them. When signing the agreement, it is important to ensure that you comprehend everything written in it. There are a few legal requirements that need to be met for issues such as child support. Therefore, it is critical to know and follow the regulations.