Even when you’re expecting divorce papers, being served a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage isn’t a pleasant experience. It means your spouse has initiated the formal divorce process in Arizona, and it’s now up to you to respond.
We’re not talking about your emotional response, or a polite text message to let your spouse know you received the papers. No, we’re talking about your legal response to the court.
If you’re feeling anxious, the good news is you don’t have to handle the response on your own. The best thing to do is get in touch with your attorney, or hire an attorney if you haven’t already done so. An experienced family law attorney can help you achieve the outcome you desire, whether it’s to get this over as quickly and painlessly as possible, push back against unfair claims, or even to make an attempt at conciliation.
What Does Respondent Mean?
First, let’s cover a few simple definitions for terms you’ll come across in your divorce papers. The spouse that files the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is referred to as the petitioner, while the spouse who is served the petition is referred to as the respondent. Even if you draft the petition with your spouse, one party must be the petitioner, and one must be the respondent.
Generally speaking, being classified as the respondent or petitioner doesn’t matter in an uncontested divorce. It’s simply a nicer way of referring to the each party than the traditional legal situation where you have a plaintiff and defendant (not exactly pleasant terms in a divorce case).
Mandatory Timeline for a Response in Arizona
Arizona law provides the respondent 20 days to respond to a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage in the form of a responsive pleading. The timeline begins the day the respondent receives service of process. Failure to respond within 20 days opens the door for the petitioner to file a request for default. If granted, a request for default means you cannot contest any of the allegations in the petition.
Don’t confuse the response timeline with Arizona’s mandatory 60-day “cooling off” period. Even if you fail to respond in a timely manner and the judge approves a request for default, your divorce cannot be finalized until at least 60 days after the initial filing.
How to Prepare a Response to a Divorce Petition in Arizona
So, what exactly are you responding to? A Petition for Dissolution of Marriage typically contains the following information:
- Details concerning your community property (financial assets, debts, property, etc.)
- Requested terms for alimony (aka spousal maintenance)
- Requested terms for child support, parenting time, and legal decision-making (if you have minor children together, or if your spouse is pregnant)
Simply put, your response will be dictated by the facts and terms laid out in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. If you agree with the information and terms, you may proceed with an uncontested divorce by choosing not to respond at all (thus allowing your spouse to file a request for default), or by filing a response pleading with matching information and terms.
On the other hand, if the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage contains incorrect information or unfair terms, or you object to the divorce and wish to seek conciliation first, you’ll need to file a response pleading that contests the Petition. This paves the way for a contested divorce.
How to File a Response to a Divorce Petition in Arizona
A responsive pleading typically includes the Response form and a Sensitive Data Cover Sheet. There are actually two types of Response forms — one for divorces with minor children, and one for divorces without minor children — so be sure to file the correct one.
If you agree with the information and terms in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, all you need to do is make the same claims and requests in your Response. File your response with the Superior Court of the county where your spouse filed the original petition, and pay the filing fee. You’ll also need to serve a copy of the response to your spouse.
At the conclusion of the 60-day waiting period, you and your spouse will need to sign and submit a Consent Decree to finalize the divorce. The judge will review the Consent Decree and (assuming everything is in order) issue a divorce decree. If you have minor children, the court will also issue a child support order and custody order.
If you disagree with the information and/or terms in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, follow the same process by filing the Response form and Sensitive Data Cover Sheet. In this case, however, your claims and terms will differ, setting the stage for a contested divorce.
Contested Divorce Cases in Arizona
It’s a common misconception that contested divorce cases immediately proceed to trial. On the contrary, many contested divorce cases in Arizona are resolved outside of the courtroom through private negotiations, mediation sessions, or conciliation. In the end, these contested divorce cases ultimately conclude as an uncontested divorce rather than going to trial as a contested case.
Can You Refuse a Divorce?
You can refuse to sign divorce papers, but that only paves the way for your spouse to request a default judgement from the court. Considering how that hinders you from contesting the information and terms in the petition, it’s generally unwise to simply refuse to sign divorce papers if you don’t want to get divorced.
If you wish to conciliate and avoid getting divorced, you can make your wishes known to the court in your response pleading. With the help of your attorney, you may be able to schedule formal conciliation sessions, negotiations, and mediation sessions with your spouse.
That said, you can’t just refuse to get a divorce. You would need to prove that your marriage is not “irretrievably broken,” or in the case of a covenant marriage, that your actions are not valid grounds to dissolve a covenant marriage.
Receive Help Responding to a Divorce Petition in Arizona
You should prepare your response to the divorce petition with the assistance of an experienced family law attorney. This is especially true for those who plan to refrain from responding and allow a request for default, as you’ll lose the ability to contest the information and terms down the road if you change your mind. It’s important to understand your rights and consider possible contingencies with an attorney before committing to a response.
Call the Family Law Team at (480) 467-4348 to discuss your case today.
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