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What Happens If You Don’t Respond to a California Divorce Petition?

Getting served with a divorce petition and summons in California can bring about a lot of reactions and emotions: sadness, anger, relief, confusion, etc. Your first instinct may be to go out and hire an attorney (which is, in many cases, the most sound approach), to call up your spouse and plead/argue, or to sit and do nothing and hope it all goes away. This last approach can be particularly dangerous.
A Judge Will Grant a Divorce Even If You Do Nothing
If you are thinking that refusing to respond to California divorce papers (meaning failing to respond to the petition) will mean that your spouse will not be able to get a divorce, you are absolutely, 100% incorrect.

You might be thinking of the cliche storyline in TV and movies of one spouse “refusing to sign the divorce papers,” but that is a different scenario (and that’s assuming the writers even know what they are talking about). Usually this is a reference to one spouse dragging his or her heels on signing a voluntary settlement agreement relating to spousal support, property distribution, and other matters.

Such an agreement, by definition, does need both parties to sign. But a judge can and will grant a divorce even if you never do anything to respond.
A Judge Will Likely Give the Other Spouse Everything Asked For
You might think then that, if a judge will grant the divorce regardless of whether I respond, then why make the effort to respond to confusing divorce papers?

Because a failure to respond means that your voice will never be heard in the divorce proceeding. Courts of all kinds do not look kindly on people who disregard their actions, and so the result will most likely be that the judge will provide the filing spouse with what he or she requests in the court documents. This could mean you are hit with a spousal support order that is unfair in light of your circumstances, or, alternatively, that you miss your chance to request spousal support.

This also goes for property distribution, child custody, child support, visitation, and other matters.
You Can Pursue an Uncontested Divorce With Your Spouse
If your reasoning for not wanting to respond to a divorce petition is that you do not want to enter into an argument with your spouse, especially in court, understand that you can pursue an uncontested divorce with your spouse, but doing so will require legal action on your part.

An uncontested divorce is where you and your spouse submit a settlement agreement to the court which outlines what outcomes you would like with regard to spousal support, property distribution, child support, custody, and visitation. In doing so, you will not have to argue about these things in filings to the court, nor will a judge have to make a decision on any of them.

Creating a settlement agreement and filing it with the court will require action, however, and many people find that working with an experienced California family law attorney is beneficial to achieving positive, timely outcomes in their divorce.
Get Answers to Your California Family Law Questions
At Kearney | Baker in Pasadena, we represent spouses through all aspects of the dissolution/divorce process. Our partners, Brian A. Baker and Gary W. Kearney, are both Family Law Specialists, as certified by the California State Bar. To schedule a consultation regarding any questions about family law in California, contact one of the family law attorneys at Kearney | Baker today at 626-768-2945.

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