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 standalone plan. For a flat rate, we help clients prepare, file, and serve all documents related to their response (or petition).

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

If you choose not to respond

First of all, know that 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. This just means you and your spouse will be coming to an agreement together later in the process.

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. You will first 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 so you can 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, you must 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

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 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 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. You would also need to file a motion requesting the court's permission, if necessary.

You must 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. This will need to be set out far enough to allow adequate time to have your motion served. You will need 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 5 calendar days for mailing) or personal service (16 court days).

Have your response ready by the 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.

The advantage of filing a timely response

Your best and safest option is to file a response, if possible. This ensures your rights remain intact and requires no additional steps or time. If your spouse has already filed a default, consider filing a request to set aside the default or simply asking your spouse if they will 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.

Watch: How to Get a Divorce in California