How to Respond to a California Divorce Petition

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How to Respond to a California Divorce Petition

If you have been served with a Summons and Petition to dissolve your marriage in California, you will be deemed the respondent in the court case for divorce. Form FL-100 specifies what your spouse, the petitioner, seeks for the division of marital property, child support, and spousal support. You can respond to a California divorce Petition as follows:

1. Do Nothing
You do not legally have to provide an answer to your spouse’s divorce Petition. However, if you fail to file a Response, whatever your spouse asks for will likely be granted. This means that the judge will base his decision about child support, visitation, or child custody on the information your spouse provides. The judge will also make decisions about the division of property and debt. These decisions will be made without any comments from your side.

2. Request A Default Judgment By Agreement – See our Other Legal Services below.
The petitioner can request a default judgment by agreement to be entered if you and your spouse have reached an agreement regarding the division of the marital estate, child custody and visitation, and spousal support. The agreement must be notarized.

3. File A Response to Divorce Petition
You can file a Response to the divorce petition and, if necessary, disagree with anything or everything your spouse requested in the Petition. Once a Response is filed, the court considers the divorce proceedings “contested.” Unless the parties later agree between themselves to settle all contested issues, the court will make the final decision in determining the division of the marital estate, child custody and visitation, and child support, if an agreement is not reached.

California Divorce Response 30 Day Deadline

If you decide to file a Response, California law provides you 30 days from the date you were served with the Summons and Petition to do so. If you fail to file a Response by the specified deadline, and fail to request an extension, a default judgment can be entered against you. Note, a Response will be considered incomplete if it does not meet all applicable legal requirements of California law.

Alternatives to Filing a Response to a Divorce
(Marital Settlement Agreement)

As mentioned above, an alternative to filing a Response to a divorce would be to do nothing and let the matter proceed unilaterally by the petitioner. This may be a perfectly reasonable option for short term marriages (one year or less) where there all are no children, property, debts or other matters to be resolved. Another option would be for the petitioner and the respondent to sign a marital settlement agreement. Both options provide a path for the divorce case to be completed without the respondent having to file a formal Response. In both of these situations, the case would continue by “default.”

Not every divorce case requires the respondent to file a formal Response to a divorce Petition. In fact, most of the divorce cases we handle are completed by default with a marital settlement agreement. This process, in effect, allows both parties to take part in the divorce and agreement process, but avoids the unnecessary and extra expense of a first appearance court filing fee having to be paid by the respondent. If both parties agree, there is absolutely no reason for the respondent to file a formal Response to the divorce Petition and incur these extra costs.

In some cases, however,  it is wise for the respondent to file a formal Response even if they ultimately believe they will be able to reach an agreement with the petitioner. Sometimes a petitioner drags their feet and does not cooperate with attempts to reach a marital settlement agreement. In this case, a Response can be filed to prevent the petitioner from taking the respondent’s default and proceeding unilaterally. Making an appearance with the court by filing a formal Response to the Petition will keep respondent’s options open. It will also prevent an unexpected “surprise” default down the road should petitioner decide not to cooperate with resolving the issues.

A Request to Enter Default is the formal document entered by the court clerk which states the respondent failed to file a formal Response with the court. Once a default is entered, the case is allowed to proceed unilaterally by the petitioner. The petitioner can take the default of the respondent any time on or after the 31st day after service of the petition.

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Don Glass, Esq.
$695 Flat Fee Divorce Attorney
951-501-3554

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