If you are served with a Petition for Divorce and Summons in Utah, you are considered the Respondent spouse. The Petition is the document your spouse has filed with the Court to initiate divorce proceedings. The Petition lets the Court know the factual information regarding your marriage, as well as your spouse’s requests for “relief,” such as the division of marital property and debts, spousal support, and for Court Orders regarding any children of the marriage. You might not agree with everything in the Petition that has been filed by your spouse, and that’s okay! You have an opportunity to respond, either by way of a stipulation or an answer, for this very reason.
A stipulation is when you agree in writing to the petition for divorce and divorce decree. You can choose to file this from the start, or at any point during the process if you come to an agreement. If you have an agreement with your spouse from the start, and have a stipulation, you do not need to be provided with service of the petition and a summons.
In a contested divorce, where you don’t agree with what your spouse has written in the petition for divorce, you can file an answer, which allows you to agree or disagree with each aspect of the petition. If you want to make your own claims, which weren’t addressed in the divorce petition filed, you must file both an answer and a counterclaim.
When served in Utah, you are required to file a response within 21 days of being personally served. If your spouse has filed for divorce in Utah and you live in another state, you have 30 days to file your response. When you file a response with a counterclaim, you will have to pay the applicable court filing fee of $130. If you are not filing a response with a counterclaim, you do not have to pay a cost.
Why Should I File an Answer?
An answer is your opportunity to agree or disagree with any of the information your spouse has put in the petition. It also lets the Court know that you are going to be an active participant in your divorce case. This is important as once you have been served with the Petition and Summons, you have been put on effective notice of the Domestic Relations Injunction.
As soon as a divorce petition is filed, the Court automatically issues a Domestic Relations Injunction. This essentially stops either party from making any major changes in response to the divorce. Elements of the injunction include requiring both spouses not to harass each other, not allowing for changes to be made to insurance policies or property ownership, and non-essential travel with the parties’ minor children, amongst other things. The petitioner is bound by the injunction once they file, and the respondent is bound by it only once the petitioner provides them with a copy. Actively participating in your divorce can help you to avoid inadvertently violating the Domestic Relations Injunction.
What Happens if I Don’t File an Answer?
If you choose not to file an answer, especially in a case where you don’t agree with everything included in the petition for divorce filed by your spouse, you are considered to be in default. As such, the Court can enter a default and make orders based on the petition without your input. This means the Court and your spouse can decide how all of your marital assets and debts are divided, how much parenting time you receive, how much support you will have to pay (or receive) and more, all without your input. By not filing an answer, you are putting your future in your spouse’s hands.
What if We Have a Postnuptial Agreement?
Even if you have postnuptial (stipulation) agreement, if the Petitioner does not provide the Court with a copy (for instance, if it is unfavorable for the Petitioner), then the Court would just enter the default orders that have been requested by the Petitioner because they have no knowledge of the agreement. If the Petitioner does provide the Court with the pre/post nuptial agreement, then they could use that as a guide to splitting things up, so long as that agreement is found to be valid.
The Good News?
The good news is that an answer in Utah is not a difficult process (your spouse has already done most of the leg work by filing the Petition) and filing an answer does not lock you into agreeing to any final terms of your divorce.
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