When served with a summons and complaint for divorce, you should respond promptly and completely to the papers you receive. Responding keeps as many of your options open as possible, even if you don’t want to contest the divorce.
Being served with the divorce papers establishes a legal record that the other spouse knows about the proceedings. Your spouse can serve you the divorce summons and complaint in person, or get a process server to deliver the papers to you. A process server is someone empowered by the court, such as a sheriff or a private professional, to deliver the papers and certify their delivery.
If your spouse serves you in person, you may need to sign a waiver of service to confirm you received the documents. It’s best to sign this document. It’s not usually possible to stop or significantly delay the divorce process just by avoiding service.
You usually have 20–60 days to respond to a summons and complaint. This time period may vary depending on whether your spouse or another person serves you the papers, and whether you and your spouse currently live in the same state or different states. The deadline should be printed clearly on the summons.
The papers you were served will usually have instructions. If you don’t see any instructions, go to the local office of the court listed on the papers, or consult the court’s website. You will typically respond on a form provided by the court, where you indicate whether you agree with your spouse’s divorce petition.
In an uncontested divorce, you may agree to everything your spouse included in the petition. If you don’t agree with any facts or proposals in the petition, which may include statements about what your spouse would like to do with your finances, children, or property, you can indicate this.
You may also be required to serve a copy of your response on your spouse, either in person or through a process server.
A default divorce may occur when the spouse being served the divorce summons and complaint does not file a response. When the other spouse does not respond, the judge may grant the petitioning spouse’s divorce request in full, assuming it is otherwise fair, thus cutting the court process short.
Some spouses might want to agree to a default divorce. In this case, one spouse doesn’t respond to the summons so that the judge will grant the default.
However, failing to respond removes your right to contest changes to the conditions of the divorce originally given in the complaint. To maintain your standing with the court, respond even if you agree with everything written.