Options After Getting Served With a Divorce Complaint

If your spouse files for divorce, you will receive notice from the court. The divorce petition will be “served,” meaning that someone will hand-deliver it to you. The court does this on purpose so that you cannot claim ignorance of the filing.

Some people know ahead of time, or at least suspect, that a spouse is planning to file for divorce. Other people are caught off guard. You may not know how to react when served with the divorce complaint, especially if you were not expecting your spouse to file. You should read the papers carefully, and then you have several options.


Once you have been served papers, you have a time limit in which you can respond to the complaint. If you do not file within the time limit, the court will enter a default. In other words, the court will grant the divorce on your spouse’s terms because it interprets your failure to respond as agreement with them. This is one way to ensure that the divorce gets settled quickly, but the outcome is unlikely to be very favorable to you. If you fail to respond and then decide that you want to contest the default later, you may be able to ask the court to set aside the decision. However, this is unlikely to be successful unless you can demonstrate a legitimate legal reason.


If you wish to contest the divorce, you will have to read the complaint and provide an answer within the specified time frame. In many jurisdictions, this is relatively easy. It involves filling out a pre-printed form. There are check boxes available next to each paragraph labeled “denied” or “admitted.” If you admit to the statement made in the paragraph, no further explanation is necessary. However, if you deny the allegation, you can make your own statement in the space provided on the form.

The divorce complaint may include requests for spousal and/or child support, property division, and child custody. You can respond with your own proposals regarding these matters in your answer.

Getting served with a divorce complaint can be confusing and upsetting. You may be tempted to put off responding to it, but that could be a mistake that you regret for the rest of your life. We know that it is difficult, and a divorce lawyer, such as from May Law, LLP, can assist you with the process of responding appropriately to the complaint so that the court receives your side of the story as well.