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What are the options to respond to a divorce petition?

In California, when a couple gets a divorce, it is often not a simple matter of both sides agreeing to part ways, filing the papers and moving on with their lives. There are times that there are issues in dispute and one spouse chooses to file so the other spouse must respond. This is a serving of a summons and petition. The spouse who has been served has several options in how to respond. Knowing these and which is the most appropriate can be integral to a proceeding and a successful outcome.

When served, the respondent has the option of doing nothing. This means that whatever the other person requests in the petition will likely be granted. The judge will make the decision on child custody, visitation plans, support and property based solely on what the other person has said. This is known as "true default" as the respondent is defaulting by failing to respond and not having any involvement. The true default means that the person is surrendering his or her right as a participant in the case.

The next option is to do nothing not because the person is not participating, but because there is a written and notarized agreement with the other person where there is an agreement to end the union and on issues such as custody, visitation, property and anything else that will need to be dealt with. This is also considered a default because there was no official response, but the person who was served will have a say in the outcome stemming from the written agreement.

The person can file a response with the court, but can also come to an agreement with the spouse about the issues. This will make the case "uncontested" since there is no fighting about any of the circumstances in the marriage and split. The respondent agrees to the terms of the divorce. Finally, the person can file a response with the court in which there is a disagreement over what the other person is requesting. This will be a contested divorce since there is no agreement and the court has the power to make decisions on the case. If the decision is made to file a response, there will be 30 days from the date of the serving of the summons and petition to do so.

Even in situations where the parties have basically agreed to everything in advance, it is wise to have legal advice. Speaking to an attorney can be vital for anyone who is moving forward with a divorce whether they are disputing issues or not.

Source: courts.ca.gov, "Options to Respond," accessed on June 13, 2017

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