If you have been served with the Summons (FL-110) and Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (FL-100), you are the Respondent. The Petition tells you what your spouse is asking for. Usually, a Petitioner will put their “best case scenario” in the Petition so it is not always a truthful indication of the result they are looking for. The Summons applies to both you and your spouse and contains some standard limits (orders) on what each of you can do with your property, money, and other assets or debts. It also restricts (among other things) you or your spouse from moving out of state with your kids.
Once you’ve been served, you have to file a Response (FL-120) within 30 days unless (a) you do not object to the requests articulated in your spouse’s Petition; (b) your spouse has granted you an extension (in writing) to hold off on filing a response while the two of you mediate or negotiate the issues involved in your divorce (assets, debts, kids, financial support, attorney fees); or (c) you are filing another document to try and dismiss or move the divorce to another county or state.*
If you are considering not filing a response, proceed with caution and only after obtaining the advice of an experienced divorce lawyer.
Why? If you do not file a Response and your Divorce turns ugly, your spouse can file a Request for Default. A Default effectively takes away your leverage and your voice. You spouse is free to proceed without you. Because most of us have at least some assets, money, personal property, gifts, vehicles, debts etc. and some exposure to pay financial support or right to receive it, we usually recommend that you file a Response so that you can protect your interests.
What is the benefit of NOT filing a Response?
- You avoid the court filing fee (usually $435);
- You do not have to prepare the mandatory forms (such as financial disclosures);
- Your spouse must complete the majority (and sometimes all) of the court required forms.
- You send the message to your spouse that you would like to work cooperatively toward a full resolution.
If you do not file a Response because you and your spouse have chosen to work with a mediator and/or negotiate a resolution outside of court, make sure your spouse agrees (in writing) to grant you an extension. This will allow you to keep working towards an agreement but if things get messy – you can jump into the action by filing a Response.
If you do not file a Response and do not request that your spouse provide you with an extension, the Petitioner can proceed with asking the judge for the requests s/he made in the Petition. Your judge will base their decision about everything from support and property to custody and visitation on what your spouse put in their Petition. This is called a “true default” because you are not involved in the divorce at all – you have given up your right to participate in the case (although there are some exceptions to post-divorce issues that come up with respect to your kids).
If you and your spouse are working toward an agreement on all issues (or already have a notarized agreement), you may choose to not file a Response. In this case, your spouse will still take your default, BUT you have a say in the final outcome because you have reached a written, enforceable agreement. This is called a “default with agreement.”
Most of our users filed a response with the court (as a just-in-case precautionary measure) but also ultimately reach an agreement with their spouse on all issues.
If you decide to file a Response and have not agreed to an extension, you must file it within 30 days from date of “service” (personal delivery) or within 30 days of signing the Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt if your spouse effectuated service without personal delivery.
We’ve got your step-by-step instructions for each stage along the way so don’t let the procedural requirements keep you from securing your legal rights.
*If you believe the Divorce Petition was filed in the incorrect county or state, it’s a good idea to speak with a lawyer right away to avoid waiving your right to contest jurisdiction.