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What Happens If You Don't Respond to Divorce Papers?

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. | Last updated on

This post was updated on December 13, 2022.

Although it takes two to get married, it typically only takes one to get divorced.

When a divorce petition has been filed by the spouse seeking divorce, that petition is served on the other spouse. That spouse is then expected to answer the petition within a specific time dictated by state law.

But what happens if the other spouse fails (or refuses) to respond to the divorce papers?

Default Judgment

When the non-petitioning spouse fails to answer the petition, the court will generally assume that the spouse agrees to the terms included on the petition -- which can include property division, child custody, spousal support, and other demands made by the petitioning spouse -- and enter a default judgment.

In a divorce case, obtaining a default judgment may require additional steps and paperwork, but generally, if the petitioning spouse can show that he or she has properly served the other spouse and that spouse has failed to respond, the judgment will be entered and the spouse will be bound by the terms of the divorce.

Setting Aside Default Judgments

If a default judgment has been entered, a spouse may be able to have the judgment set aside. However, you may have to provide an explanation for your failure to respond and you may only have a limited window of time in which to do so.

The rules for setting aside default judgments, like the rules for divorce, vary by state. In California, for example, the Code of Civil Procedure notes that a court may relieve a party from a judgment that was entered due to "mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect" and that application for relief "shall be made within a reasonable time, in no case exceeding six months, after the judgment."

Learn more about the divorce process including dividing property, alimony, and more at FindLaw's Learn About the Law section on Divorce.

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