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Am I required to respond to a divorce summons and petition?

Divorce can be a confusing and worrisome prospect in California, especially when it is unexpected. Even those who were aware there was turmoil in the marriage could be surprised to learn that the spouse wants to part ways. This can lead to mistakes when going through the legal process. When served with a summons and petition, the person who receives these documents is the respondent. There are options to respond that should be understood from the start.

The spouse asking for the divorce will have certain requests listed in the petition. In the summons, there will be detailed information about the respondent’s rights. Once the papers have been served, there will be limits as to what the respondent can do with their property, bank accounts and other assets. There are also limits as to what can be done with debts. Neither party can leave the state or request a new passport while the case is in progress.

After being served, the respondent can do one of four things: do nothing and give the spouse whatever he or she asks for; do nothing because there is an agreement in place to split the property, address child custody, alimony, child support, visitation and other issues; file a response, but come to an agreement on the issues so a trial is unnecessary; or file a response disagreeing with the spouse’s requests. Doing nothing and not forging an agreement will be a true default. The respondent has no rights because of a refusal to participate. Doing nothing because there is an agreement is essentially a technicality as it is a default because there is no response, but there is nothing to argue over since the parties have come to a negotiated settlement.

Filing a response, but agreeing with the other party on the issues will make it an uncontested case. There is no dispute and the terms have been settled. The most complex is the contested case as there is no agreement and it might need to go to court for the judge to decide on the contested aspects of the case. This can range from disputes over property to child custody, visitation and any other part of a family law case. When served with divorce papers, before agreeing to anything, defaulting or making any other decision related to the case, it is wise to consider the legal options. A firm experienced in family law may be able to provide protection and help.