More often than not, the emotion of a divorce is always plagued by the infinite legalities involved. Without any legal aid on your side, it becomes very easy to get lost in the massive sea that is divorce. What do you do when your spouse suddenly serves you with divorce papers? Instead of just going with the flow, there are several paths and options you can take.
As the respondent, you will have a limited period within which you must respond to the petition. For most states, this period is usually around three weeks to a month and is stated in the citation or summons. During this time frame, your options to respond to divorce include filing a counterclaim, answering, or doing nothing.
Make an Appearance and/or Answer
In a nutshell, a response/answer to divorce acknowledges that you have received the papers and either agree or disagree with the petition as it is. Typically, the one-page form that tells the court about specific aspects of your spouse’s complaints that you agree or disagree with is attached together with the served papers. In some cases, the respondent may have more objections they wish to express. Filing a small document known as an "answer" to divorce allows you to go more into the details.
File a Counterclaim
A counterclaim is the equivalent of your very own version of a divorce complaint. This way, even though your spouse fired the first bullet, you get to fire back and present your own case. For example, if one partner is accusing the other of adultery and files for divorce, you can ask the court to dismiss the accusers’ grounds and grant you a divorce on your grounds instead. A counterclaim is always the best way to respond because it gives you the opportunity to claim child custody, property ownership, and even extreme relief.
Legally speaking, nobody is obligated to do anything in response to their spouse’s divorce papers. However, it is very critical to note that failure to respond does not mean that proceedings will come to a standstill. Quite the contrary; the proceedings will continue without you by default, and the court will grant the divorce-filer everything they asked for. If you fail to avail the court with an answer after the set deadline, then you give up all rights to argue even a single part of the divorce. Circumstantially, if a respondent was unable to answer within the given time frame, he or she may ask the court to set aside the default so that the divorce can be contested. Of course, this all depends on whether the respondent is able to show sound legal reasons to justify such action. Any credible lawyer will tell you that it’s in your best interest to be proactive ant not passive.
After serious consultations with your attorney and deciding how to respond, it is always advisable to act as fast as possible to avoid missing the deadline. Having a good family lawyer is very advantageous because it allows you time and space to heal while your attorney does all the hard and tedious paperwork.