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Don’t ignore served divorce papers

It’s the Law

Posted: October 16, 2008 8:47 p.m.
Updated: December 18, 2008 5:00 a.m.
In the initial stages of a divorce many people find it difficult to face the reality of the circumstances before them and will often ignore and try to avoid the process altogether, but doing so can have serious detrimental effects.

If you are served with a Petition for Dissolution, it is imperative that you respond and in most cases you should consult with a family law attorney before doing so.

If you do not file your response or another appropriate motion within thirty days of being served the Petition, your spouse can obtain a default against you.

The party initiating the divorce case is referred to as the “Petitioner” and the party responding is the “Respondent”. If the Respondent ignores the Petition for Dissolution the case may proceed by way of default. Where you are in default, the Court will proceed with the case without hearing from you because you have missed your opportunity to respond. As such, without you having the opportunity to get your story before the court, the court will make orders on issues such as child custody and visitation, spousal support, child support, division of the marital estate and attorney fees.

Without your input, these major issues will be decided by the court based on evidence provided by your spouse. Despite the fact that you have not responded or provided the court with any evidence of your income, the court may base a child support order upon Petitioner’s estimate of your income.

Similarly, where you have not provided the court with your statement as to what assets and debts exist in the marital estate, it will be the court’s responsibility to divide the community assets and debts in a way that results in an equal division.

The court will base its decision that there has been an equal division upon the Petitioner’s estimate of the value of the assets and debts. Furthermore, if your case proceeds by way of default, the Petitioner, as the “prevailing party” in a default case, may be entitled to recover costs of the suit which are “reasonably necessary” as a matter of right. 

Most parties to a divorce have a somewhat different story than the spouse, I have even heard the court comment that the two people appear to have been in two different marriages for the past thirty years. If you do not want your spouse painting the entire picture for the court, you need to file a timely response. If a default is entered against you that may terminate your rights to take further action on the case or to request any relief such as spousal support.

While a default may be set aside under certain circumstances, it is better to respond.

As soon as you are served with a Petition for Dissolution make an appointment for a consultation with a family law attorney and be sure that you file and serve your response timely.     

April E. Oliver is an associate attorney with the Reape-Rickett Law Firm. Her column represents her own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal. “It’s the Law” rotates between members of the Santa Clarita Valley Bar Association.


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