Missed the Deadline to Respond to a Divorce Petition in California?

You were served a divorce petition in California more than 30 days ago, and you haven't submitted a response. We'll tell you what to do and what happens after each decision.

How long do I have to respond to a served divorce petition in California?

The deadline to file your response to the petition is 30 days after the date the petition was served to you. If you want help filing your response, click here to read about Hello Divorce's helpful online divorce plans.

What happens if I miss the 30-day deadline to respond?

Divorce paperwork demands your attention and response. If you ignore the paperwork, the courts can make all kinds of decisions without your input.

The court could make legally binding decisions about the following issues:

  • Who keeps the family home
  • Debt distribution
  • Asset distribution
  • Child custody and visitation schedules
  • Spousal support

The court could also ask you to pay your spouse’s attorney fees. If your case is complex and requires a lot of legal assistance, or if you make significantly more money than your spouse, the judge could determine that your legal payments are appropriate and fair.

These decisions can have a deep impact on your relationship and your financial future. Once the court rules, you’ve lost the opportunity to make your opinions heard.

If you choose not to respond

You are not required to respond to a divorce petition in California. If you and your spouse are generally in agreement on the divorce, and you don't object to anything your spouse put in the petition, you may choose not to respond and proceed with a "default with agreement" divorce. 

Read: Default Divorce: When One Spouse Doesn't Respond

If you still want to respond

If you missed the response deadline but still hope to respond, there may be a way to do so. First, you will need to confirm whether your spouse has filed a request to enter default without agreement, or "true default." A "true default" effectively takes away your leverage and your voice. Your spouse is free to proceed without you. (Note: This is different than a default with agreement, which means you and your spouse are working together on an agreement.)

Since most people have at least some assets, money, personal property, gifts, vehicles, debts, and exposure to pay financial support – or the right to receive it – it is usually recommended that you file a response to protect your interests. Most courts allow you to look up what documents have been filed in your case online. If they do not allow online access, call the family law clerk's office for the county where the petition was filed. Whether you look it up yourself or call the clerk's office, you will need your case number (which is on the petition you were served), so keep this handy.

Read about true default divorce here: True Default Divorce vs. Uncontested Divorce

Immediate steps to take after missing the response deadline

Your next steps depend on what your spouse did in response to your lateness. We’ll provide more information on that in just a minute.

In general, these are the best steps for anyone to take after missing a response deadline:

  1.  Contact your spouse. Ask if your ex has filed a request for true default.
  2.  Ask for an extension. Ask your spouse (or their lawyer) for a California divorce response extension. The document must be in writing and signed by both parties. When it is, you can file it with the court handling your divorce.
  3.  Fill out your documents. Fill out the Response-Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-120) form and the Declaration under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (FL-105) form (if you share children).
  4.  File your documents. Take your documents to the courthouse that is processing your divorce. Some courts have local required forms, so be prepared for the possibility of more paperwork.
  5.  Serve your spouse. Ask someone not connected to your case to deliver documents to your spouse, fill out the Proof of Service by Mail (FL-335) form, and file it with the court.

These are general steps. Keep reading to learn more about what to do next – your actions will depend on how your spouse has responded to your missed deadline.


What if my spouse didn't file a request to enter true default?

If the request to enter default has not been filed, you have a couple of options.

  • If you and your spouse are communicating amicably, you could simply ask for an extension to file. Get this agreement in writing, preferably with specific details on the length of the agreed-upon extension. File your response as soon as possible and before the extension expires.
  • If you and your spouse are not communicating, you will need to file your response immediately. After 30 days without an agreed-upon extension, your spouse could file the request for entry of default any day. This would bar you from filing a response without a stipulation or the court's permission.

What if my spouse did enter a request to enter true default?

If the request to enter default has been filed, you could submit a request to your spouse (or their attorney) that they sign the stipulation to set aside the default and allow you more time to file your response.

If they agree to a stipulation, you would need to file this with the court with a filing fee. You would then need to file your response within the new deadline. If necessary, you would also need to file a motion requesting the court's permission.

You will need to explain to the court why you did not timely file your response, addressing whether it was due to neglect, untimely service, or improper service. The motion will most likely require you to pay your first appearance fee. You will need the original and at least two copies when you file: one copy for you, and one copy to be served.

When you file the motion, the clerk will give you a court date. The date will need to be far enough in the future to allow adequate time to have your motion served. You will need to have a copy of the motion served on your spouse or their attorney. The motion can be served by mail (which requires 16 court days plus five calendar days for mailing) or personal service (16 court days).

Have your response ready by your court date. That way, if the judge grants your motion, you can immediately file the response.

Your remaining option, if the request to enter default was filed, is to let the default stand and work with your spouse to come to a full agreement and enter a judgment as uncontested. This is a potentially risky option, but it is an option. You may still have to pay your first appearance fee if you sign and file a stipulated judgment or marital settlement agreement. The risk in this avenue is that if the communication between you and your spouse breaks down and becomes a contested situation, they have already entered your default and can proceed to judgment without your input.

Your options to set aside the default may no longer be viable. You potentially may be able to file a motion to set aside the default, but the longer you wait, the harder it may be to convince the judge to grant you relief.

When will courts approve a response extension?

Asking for a California divorce response extension isn’t as easy as filling out a form and filing it with the court. You must work with the court and your spouse to get the extra time you need.

The court can only consider a response extension if you have a written agreement that has been signed by both parties. If you don’t have this document, the court can’t even consider a deadline shift.

In some cases, you must tell the court why you need an extension. Good reasons can include the following.

  • Mistakes: If you honestly didn’t understand what the paperwork meant or why it was required, you can tell the court that. If you were sick or had mental health issues that impacted your concentration, that could help, too.
  •  Time: If your spouse didn’t serve your paperwork properly, you may not have received it with enough time to fill out your response. That’s a good reason to ask for an extension.
  • Deceit: If your spouse didn’t serve your paperwork properly, thereby ensuring that you wouldn’t have enough time to respond, that’s a good reason to ask for an extension.

In some cases, you’ll need a lawyer’s help to ask for an extension. That’s especially true if your spouse has already moved the case forward and asked the judge to make final rulings.

The advantage of filing a timely response

Your best and safest option is to file a response on time, if possible. This keeps your rights intact and requires no additional steps or time.

Remember: If your spouse has already filed a default, consider filing a request to set aside the default or simply asking your spouse if they would agree to set aside the default. You might get a "yes," since most people don't want to have to take the time to go to court and battle it out.

Schedule a free 15-minute call if you have further questions. You may also want to try one of our flat-rate legal services.

Frequently asked questions

These are questions we often hear about getting a California divorce response extension:

What is a true default?

A true default involves one party neglecting or refusing to participate in the divorce process. You haven’t communicated with your spouse about the split. You haven’t made your opinions about your debts and assets clear. In a situation like this, you’re effectively giving up all of your decision-making power through your refusal to collaborate or respond.

What is a default with agreement?

A default with agreement involves two people working together on a divorce, while only one side fills out the legal documents. Essentially, you’re not responding to the divorce papers, but you provide the court with written arrangements you’ve drafted with your spouse. The court then determines an outcome based on your agreement and how it matches California law.

Can a judge set aside an order?

If your case moves forward through default and you disagree with the outcome, you can ask the judge to set aside the order. The process is complicated, but it could help you get relief.

Notably, the court can only take this step for the following reasons:

  •   You had the wrong information.
  •   You made a mistake.
  •   You were surprised.
  •   You didn’t get the paperwork in time.
  •   Your ex threatened you or lied to you.
  •   You were on active duty, and your service just ended.

The forms you’ll need to respond depend on your reasons for disagreeing with the court order. You may need a lawyer to help you understand what to do next.


Default with Agreement. Judicial Branch of California.
Respond to Divorce Papers. Judicial Branch of California.
Legal Reasons a Judge Can Set Aside an Order or Judgment. Judicial Branch of California

Watch: How to Get a Divorce in California


Founder, CEO & Certified Family Law Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Insights, Legal Insights
After over a decade of experience as a Certified Family Law Specialist, Mediator and law firm owner, Erin was fed up with the inefficient and adversarial “divorce corp” industry and set out to transform how consumers navigate divorce - starting with the legal process. By automating the court bureaucracy and integrating expert support along the way, Hello Divorce levels the playing field between spouses so that they can sort things out fairly and avoid missteps. Her access to justice work has been recognized by the legal industry and beyond, with awards and recognition from the likes of Women Founders Network, TechCrunch, Vice, Forbes, American Bar Association and the Pro Bono Leadership award from Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Erin lives in California with her husband and two children, and is famously terrible at board games.