Once the divorce or dissolution petition is filed in the court, the spouse who files the petition must serve the petition on the other spouse. The petition must be served on the other spouse according to the state law on process service. The filing spouse is generally known as the petitioner and the other spouse is called the defendant or the respondent.
If you have been served with a divorce petition filed by your spouse, you have to respond to the petition within a specified period of time, generally 3 weeks.
Divorce is a legal proceeding. It means that you are being sued. You must answer the petition within the specified time or else you will lose your right to put forth your stand on the various issues of the divorce.
Contents of the Answer
Basically the answer contains statements of agreement or disagreement with the contents of the petition.
Your answer should specifically your position on the statements made by your spouse in the petition including information about the marriage and requests for property division, alimony, child support and child custody. Pre-printed response forms are available which allows you to agree or disagreeing with the contents of the petition by checking boxes. These forms also have space wherein you can provide explanation for your agreement or disagreement as well as list your own demands.
For example, if in the third paragraph of the petition, your spouse seeks sole custody of your children and you feel that you are entitled to joint custody, then you should clearly indicate your position in your answer. On most pre-printed forms, you can check the box marked DENIED. You should then provide a brief explanation as to why you believe your spouse is not entitled to sole custody.
Failure to Answer
If the petition has been properly served on you but you do not respond or appear in the court, the court will assume that you have no objection to the petition and will pass an order for default divorce. You can subsequently ask the court to set aside the default order but you will have to show cause. Once an order for divorce is passed, it essentially ends your right to put forth your side of the story.