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What Happens If a Spouse Does Not Respond to Divorce Papers?


Divorce is something that no married couple ever wants to experience, but when there are irreconcilable differences in the relationship, there is sometimes no other option. What many spouses fail to understand is that, even though marriage requires the consent of both people, divorce requires the consent of only one partner. In some cases, the spouse that gets served thinks they can prevent the divorce simply by ignoring the summons, but this only worsens their situation. 

Whether you’re the spouse serving the divorce papers or the one being served, learn how the process works on both sides and what happens if a spouse does not respond to divorce papers. Having this information will help your divorce to proceed faster and smoother, allowing you to achieve a swift and peaceful resolution so you can heal and move on from your marriage.

What Happens After a Spouse Is Served a Divorce Petition?

Soon after filing for divorce, your spouse will receive a notice, referred to as a summons. This document establishes details about the marriage as well as the grounds for divorce. It informs the recipient of the number of days they have to respond to the summons, known as the “protected period,” which is usually 20 days. During this time frame, the spouse has time to consider how to respond and is free to consult with a lawyer.

What Happens If You Never Get Served Court Papers?

In almost every state, court documents must be delivered to the defendant in person to ensure that he or she has been properly notified. If you try to avoid being served by hiding from the process server, the person will exhaust every available means of contacting you. They may leave the court document with a family member or someone you live with or even publish the notice in a public place. Regardless of what the process server does, hiding from the divorce petition doesn’t make it go away.

 How to Respond to a Divorce Petition

If you’ve been served a summons, the first thing you should do is carefully read every word of it so you understand when your answer is due and what your spouse has claimed. 

Next, you’ll write an answer to the complaint by agreeing or disagreeing with each statement in the notice (you can also state that you had no knowledge of a specific complaint). For example, if the petition states the wedding anniversary incorrectly, you would write, “I deny that the wedding occurred on December 6, 1997. The wedding took place on December 6, 1998.” When you go to court, you’ll have the opportunity to explain yourself in more detail than you were able to in your answer.

After you’ve written your answer addressing all the facts and issues, you should sign and date it and make copies for everyone involved. This includes the plaintiff and his or her lawyer as well as yourself and your own lawyer. You’ll also need to file a copy with the courthouse clerk by the due date stated on the divorce petition. 

Alternatively, rather than agreeing or denying with your spouse’s claim, you could file a divorce counterclaim. A counterclaim allows you to petition the court for relief and address issues not mentioned in the divorce complaint. Child custody is a common issue brought up in counterclaims; in the original divorce petition, for example, the spouse may have requested full custody, but the counterclaim gives you the opportunity to deny the request and ask for full custody. If your spouse did not enumerate assets, you could ask the court to resolve this in a counterclaim as well.

Now that you’ve served the divorce papers but received no response, you can move forward with the case once the protected period has elapsed. You’re free to schedule a hearing regardless of whether or not the other person has responded. This is possible with “no-fault” divorces, in which one spouse states their reasoning for wanting to divorce, which could be as simple as incompatibility or irreconcilable differences. If you’ve been served and have chosen to ignore the summons, you can still answer whenever you want after the protected period is over. 

However, if you wait too long, the court will assume that you aren’t participating, and you risk the judge making default judgments without knowing your wishes, your input, or your side of the story. Your spouse may try to prove that there was fault on your side, which means they could end up with more alimony, marital property, or child custody. 

Don’t forfeit your rights. Even if you are against the divorce, file your answer anyway to make sure you get notified about the hearing and have the chance to voice your concerns.

The Importance of Providing an Answer

By providing an answer to a divorce petition, you are getting a chance to state your wishes in the divorce. Without an answer, you could end up with orders against you that never would have happened if you’d answered and showed up at the hearing. These orders can’t be changed down the road, and the divorce process could be longer and more painful if you don’t participate.

Get the Best Outcome From Your Divorce

Although the divorce process will likely be painful, you’re not alone. Whether you’re filing or getting served, Collins Family & Elder Law Group has experience on both sides of divorce cases. We’re dedicated to helping you achieve a fair outcome so you can breathe easier post-divorce. Contact us today for a case consultation.

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