How to Respond to Divorce Papers

by LegalFix
Posted: December 29, 2022

Getting served with divorce papers almost always carries lots of complicated feelings. While your first instinct may be to react emotionally, it’s essential to know what to do to protect yourself from legal pitfalls during the proceedings. 

Responding to Divorce Papers

If you have been served with divorce papers, it is generally your responsibility to file an answer on or before the deadline for responding to the lawsuit—which is often within 20 to 30 days after being served, depending on your state’s statutes (laws). Responses to lawsuits for divorce generally consist of denying any untrue allegations made against you; refuting any legal claims for the division of property, payment of child support, or awarding of sole custody of children; and asking for any affirmative legal relief to which you may be entitled. An answer to a divorce filing also serves as a legal record that the person being served has received and acknowledged the filing. 


Laws on what constitutes an adequate response vary from state to state. Even if you can technically respond with a simple signed statement acknowledging that you received the papers, it is important that you assert any legal rights, as required by your state’s laws, so you do not waive or lose them. 

How Long Do You Have to Respond to Divorce Papers?

Typically, the paperwork handed over when a divorce is served will specify the number of days the partner being served has to respond. There is no standard time for how long someone has to respond to divorce papers, but a state’s laws will usually give a person 20 or 30 days from when the divorce papers have been delivered to the respondent or defendant. 

Defaulting On a Divorce Petition

If you fail to file an answer to divorce papers within the allotted time, the court will assume that you agree with everything stated, claimed, and requested in your partner’s filing. A defaulted divorce almost always results in the partner who filed getting the divorce and the terms they requested (within some reason). A defaulted divorce petition can result in the divorce being granted as an at-fault divorce instead of a no-fault divorce—which can have significant legal consequences. 


If you missed the initial deadline, however, you may not have missed out altogether. Generally, the court’s primary interest is getting the most accurate and complete story. If you reach out to the relevant court as soon as possible, they will often accept a late answer, assuming that the proceedings have not already been completed. It is especially important at this time that you get the professional legal advice that you should have had when you were served with divorce papers.

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