How to File a Response to a Petition for Divorce

Even if you knew it was coming, getting served with a petition for dissolution of marriage can be jarring. Upon reading the summons, you may be concerned that you only have a few days to respond to the petition, depending on the state where you live. This is your “response deadline,” and it must be met – or you risk losing your chance to participate in your divorce proceedings.

What does it mean to “respond” to a petition for divorce?

While you have limited time to respond to a petition for divorce, you don't have to respond. However, you should know that if you don't respond, you could be barred from participating in the divorce process. 

Some couples who agree to a collaborative divorce or who file the petition together won't have to respond. But if you want to respond – say you disagree with your spouse’s request for distribution of assets, or you want to try to get full custody of your children – make sure you respond in the timeframe provided.

The initial process for divorce usually begins when one spouse is served with divorce papers by the other. Depending on the jurisdiction, there may be several steps involved in responding to a petition for divorce. Typically, you must meet certain requirements set by the court, such as submitting a completed response form and any required documents or fees by a specified deadline.

Filing a response to a petition for divorce is optional, and some spouses choose not to. But filing a response can help clarify the terms of your divorce, and it can also help protect your rights during divorce proceedings.

Benefits of responding to a petition for divorce

Even if you and your spouse are amicable, there are several reasons why you might want to file a response to a petition for divorce. 

One reason is that you can gain more control over the divorce process and your future. By responding, you can make your own arguments and present your own evidence when negotiating your marital settlement agreement. This gives you more influence over the outcome of your divorce proceedings. 

Furthermore, if you choose to respond, you have the opportunity to defend yourself against any allegations or claims made by your spouse.

Drawbacks of not responding to a petition for divorce

If you do not respond, your spouse may be able to divorce you without your involvement or consent. This could lead to unfavorable terms in any settlement agreement or court orders related to child custody, support, or property division. 

If you choose not to respond and your spouse ends up prevailing in court, you may be left with little or no say in important decisions about how you will move forward after the divorce.

Divorce response times

So, how long do you have to respond? The deadline depends on the state or territory where you live. Here are some state timeline examples:

  • California: 30 days
  • Colorado: 21 days or 35 days if the respondent lives out of state
  • New York: 20 days if served in New York; 30 days if out of state
  • Texas: 20 days
  • Utah: 21 days if served in Utah; 30 days if served in another state

You may also be required to pay a filing fee when you respond. This fee may range from $100 to $500 or more.

What happens if you don’t respond by the deadline?

If someone does not respond to a divorce petition in the required time, they may face legal consequences, such as a court-issued default judgment against them. Typically, this results in the divorce being granted and any property or assets being divided according to the terms of the petition.

In California, if you’re the respondent but don’t respond, your spouse could request a true default. If the judge agrees with your spouse, they could grant the true default judgment, leaving you without a say in your divorce proceedings – and potentially an unequal share of assets post-divorce.

Do not ignore a divorce petition simply because you don’t want to get divorced. You cannot refuse divorce. The divorce will happen regardless, but you will have more of a say in matters if you respond.

How to respond

To respond to a divorce petition, you need to collect certain information so you can prepare correctly. Your response will include detailed information about your personal circumstances and reasons for opposing the terms of divorce suggested in the petition. You may also want to provide evidence to support your case, such as documents or witness testimonies.

If you don’t file a response, your spouse could get an unequal distribution of marital assets. To prevent this, it’s important to respond quickly and thoroughly to any divorce petitions filed against you.

If you've been served a divorce petition, however, we cannot stress strongly enough that you need to move quickly to make sure you respond to the divorce petition within the time required by your state.

To support you during this stressful and time-consuming process, you can lean on Hello Divorce. We offer several online divorce plans, and we'll even help you select the right plan for your situation and budget. 


Divorce Content Specialist & Lawyer
Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Legal Insights

Bryan is a non-practicing lawyer, HR consultant, and legal content writer. With nearly 20 years of experience in the legal field, he has a deep understanding of family and employment laws. His goal is to provide readers with clear and accessible information about the law, and to help people succeed by providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the legal landscape. Bryan lives in Orlando, Florida.