Should I File a Response to Divorce in California?
If you have been served with the initial divorce papers (the Summons and Petition for Dissolution of Marriage), you are the Respondent during a divorce in California. The Petition tells you what your spouse is asking for.
Usually, a Petitioner will put their "best-case scenario" in the Petition, so it is not always a truthful indication of the result they are looking for. The Summons applies to both you and your spouse and contains some standard limits (orders) on what each of you can do with your property, money, and other assets or debts. It also restricts (among other things) you or your spouse from moving out of state with your kids.
Should you file a Response to the divorce Petition?
Once you've been served, you have the choice to to file a Response (FL-120) within 30 days unless (a) you do not object to the requests in your spouse's Petition (like, you agree that they are asking for child or spousal support or other things); (b) your spouse has granted you an extension (in writing) to hold off on filing a Response while the two of you mediate or negotiate the issues involved in your divorce (assets, debts, kids, financial support, attorney fees); or (c) you are filing another document to try to dismiss or move the divorce to another county or state.*
What happens if you don't file a Response?
If you do not file a Response and do not request your spouse to provide you with an extension, the Petitioner can proceed with asking the judge for the requests they made in the Petition. Your judge will base their decision about everything from support and property to custody and visitation on what your spouse put in their Petition. This is called a "true default" because you are not involved in the divorce at all; you have given up your right to participate in the case (although there are some exceptions to post-divorce issues that come up with respect to your kids).
If you and your spouse are working toward an agreement on all issues (or already have a notarized agreement), you may choose to not file a Response. In this case, your spouse will still take your "default," but you will still have a say in the final outcome as you reach a written, enforceable agreement. This is called a "Default with Agreement." In Default with Agreement, you both review and sign the final agreement showing you agree to the terms.
What is the benefit of not filing a Response?
- You avoid the court filing fee (usually $435).
- Depending upon your county and your spouse's preference, you may not have to prepare some mandatory forms (such as Financial Disclosures).
- Your spouse must complete the majority (and sometimes all) of the court-required forms.
- You send the message to your spouse that you would like to work cooperatively toward a full resolution.
Counties that still require both spouses to submit Financial Disclosures in California even if no Response is filed are: Alameda, Butte, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Los Angeles, Marin, Nevada, Orange, Sacramento, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Solano, Tulare, and Ventura.
If you do not file a Response because you and your spouse have chosen to work with a mediator or otherwise negotiate a resolution outside of court, make sure your spouse agrees (in writing) to grant you an extension. This allows you to keep working toward an agreement. But, if things get messy, you can jump into action by filing a Response.
What's the difference between "true" default and Default with Agreement?
If you and your spouse are working on an Agreement, and you don't object to anything you saw in the Petition, you do not need to Respond to the Petition if you don't want to. You and your spouse will then be working on a divorce called "Default with Agreement," meaning you will still have a say in the Agreement and be signing off on the Agreement at the end of the divorce.
In this case, your spouse would not file additional paperwork asking for a "true" default, which would mean you would not get a say in the divorce. (Note: true default requires the Petitioner to provide a good level of proof to the court that the Respondent does not want to participate in the divorce.)
How we can help you as a Respondent
As the Respondent, you can use Hello Divorce, too. Since your spouse is likely going to prepare the Agreement for you to sign off on, you should only need to use our software or services for a couple of months (max). You can purchase a Response here and the required Financial Disclosures here.
Most members who choose to file a Response with the court do it as a just-in-case precautionary measure. They ultimately reach an agreement with their spouse on all issues. If you decide to file a Response and have not agreed to an extension, you must file it within 30 days from the date of "service" (personal delivery) or within 30 days of signing the Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt if your spouse served you without personal delivery.
Learn more about what it means to be a "Respondent" at this link.