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Answering a Divorce Petition

After a divorce/dissolution petition is filed with the court, the petitioner (usually through their lawyer) makes sure that the petition is "served" (legally delivered) on the other spouse. The spouse who has been served with the divorce/dissolution petition is called the "respondent" or "defendant" in the divorce/dissolution process. They must respond to ("answer") the petition within a certain time (usually about three weeks).

It might help to think of the divorce process as a lawsuit (which it technically is), so that when you are served with a divorce/dissolution petition it is like being sued. You must respond to the allegations in the petition within a short time (three weeks or so), or you could lose your right to argue your position on issues like property division and child custody.

What Does the Answer Contain?

In a nutshell, answering a divorce petition acknowledges the respondent's receipt of the divorce/dissolution petition, and states agreement or disagreement with the petition. More specifically, the respondent's answer should clearly state their position on the filing spouse's statements and proposals found in the divorce/dissolution petition - including information about the spouses and marriage; and requests for child custodyproperty division, and support

In many states, agreement or disagreement with the information and demands contained in the petition can often be declared on a pre-printed court form by checking boxes labeled "admitted" or "denied" in sections numbered to correspond with the statements or demands made in the petition. These pre-printed answer forms also provide space for explanation and the respondent's own demands (not all courts provide such forms). 

An example may help to clarify this. Assume that at Paragraph 3 of the petition for divorce/dissolution, the filing spouse declares that they are entitled to sole physical custody of the couple's children. If you, the respondent, feel that you are (at minimum) entitled to joint custody, then you would make that position clear in the answer. In some jurisdictions, this would be done on a pre-printed answer form, by checking a box marked "denied" after a pre-printed language such as "the allegations in Paragraph 3 are admitted or denied." The respondent would then be able to support this denial with a brief statement and make his or her own custody demand in space provided on the form. 

The answer to the petition is not the place to argue specific factual or legal points, however. It is the place where you declare what you do and do not agree with. If you are not sure about the level of detail to go into, contact an experienced divorce lawyer.

Failure to Answer — Default

If the divorce/dissolution petition is properly served on the respondent, and they don't answer it, the court will likely assume that the respondent agrees to the divorce on the terms that the filing spouse set in the petition, and a "default" may be entered in the case -- meaning that by failing to answer the divorce/dissolution petition, the respondent's right to argue any part of the divorce has ended.

If a default is entered against a spouse who failed to answer a divorce petition, he or she may be able to ask the court to remove or "set aside" the default so that the divorce can be contested, but the respondent will need to show sound legal reasons that justify such a move.

Sample Forms: Answers to Petition for Divorce/Dissolution

The state-specific samples below should give you an idea of what an answer to petition for divorce/dissolution looks like, and the information these documents usually contain:

Get Professional Legal Help with Answering a Divorce Petition

Let's face it. Divorces can get messy. If you've been served with a divorce petition, you'll want to understand your rights and obligations. First and foremost, you'll need to answer the divorce petition quickly. Take the stress off yourself and have a qualified divorce lawyer file your response. Start today by finding an experienced family law attorney near you.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Next Steps

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