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What Happens if I Fail to Respond to a Divorce Filing?

Woman reading divorce papers

What Happens if I Fail to Respond to a Divorce Filing? (In Missouri a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or in Kansas a Petition for Divorce)?

In Missouri or Kansas, if a spouse files a divorce petition, the spouses filing for divorce must formally serve the papers they filed on the other party (spouse). Through service of these papers (or voluntary entry of appearance and waiver of service if the parties are cooperative with one another), the other spouse is formally notified of the filing. After the filing paperwork is served on the Respondent, the divorce case process can move forward.

If you have been served divorce papers in either Kansas or Missouri and you choose to not file or cooperate with filing a response, you will not be able to prevent or delay the divorce case process from moving forward. Even if you do not wish to have a divorce or do not believe the marriage is irretrievably broken, you should still file your response with the court. Further, almost certainly, even if you have minimal assets and/or children, you should still consult with legal counsel to understand your rights and responsibilities through the process. Additionally, even if you do not want a divorce, you should still file your Response with the court. You will not gain anything nor secure a benefit or strategic advantage by failing to respond because the court can still grant the divorce unilaterally, at the request of only one party. If the court grants the divorce from the request of only one party, often the terms will be favorable for the party requesting the divorce and participating in the process and negative towards the party who chooses not to participate (or certainly will not take that party’s wishes into consideration). When you choose not to respond, you do not have the ability to protect your legal rights, raise a legal position or make any requests to the court, including for such important topics as child custody, parenting time, parenting rights (such as legal or physical custody) maintenance (what used to be known as alimony), child support and property division.

What Happens if You Fail to Respond?

If you fail to respond within the deadline you have after divorce paperwork is served upon you, the case will move forward with you in default. In Missouri, you have 30 days from the date you were served to file a response. In Kansas, your deadline to file a response to a divorce filing may be as little as 20 days!

When you choose to be in default by not responding, you give up the right to present legal arguments, make requests or have any say in the divorce process. Some people believe if they want a divorce that they will simply allow the court to grant one and it will be given in a fair and equitable way. However, while the marriage can still be dissolved, frequently, the outcome will not seem or appear fair to the party who chooses to not respond. Courts in Kansas and Missouri do not appreciate parties who choose to timely neglect filing their response to the paperwork they were served with.

What Are the Potential Consequences for Failing to Respond?

Failing to respond could result in the Court issuing orders against you for child custody, parenting time/visitation, support, maintenance, and property division. The Court does not do this to be negative/unfair to you, but rather, without you choosing to file your response and presenting “your side” of the situation to the court, the court has no information to proceed on except the one-sided information/requests of the party filing the case. Additionally, in some situations, the failure to respond to the divorce petition and your absence from the court process can, in some situations, result in the process being prolonged or more complicated.

What Happens for the Petitioner if the Other Party Fails to Respond?

If you are the Petitioner in the divorce case process and your spouse fails to file a response, you will still need to complete all of the required forms and documents. To fulfill these requirements, it is generally best and well-advised to seek legal advice in getting these documents and other requirements fulfilled.

Can the Deadline to File a Response be Extended?

The time limits for filing a statutory response to the divorce petition can be extended if both parties agree to it. If you and your spouse are going to make an agreement to extend the deadline to file a response, it is important that the agreement of the parties be in writing and signed by both parties. If needed, your lawyer can help you secure the written agreement to ensure that the expectations are clear and the new deadline is agreed upon and accurately extended.

Can the Judge Set Aside a Default if You (Or the Other Party) Want to Get a Failure to Respond Addressed?

If the deadline to file a response passes, the other party (the Petitioner) can consent to the other party’s delayed filing of a response. If they do not consent/cooperate, however, you will generally need the assistance of a lawyer to file a motion to allow you to file a response out of time. In some situations, you (or the Respondent) may have “excusable neglect” such as if the Petition was improperly served (not actually served on you), or there is another defect in service. Another potential argument for failure to respond is if you have a special circumstance such as a sickness or injury or active duty military service which prevented your ability to appropriately respond. Even those these items can be determined valid excuses by the court, you are still under a specific deadline to quickly notify the court of these kinds of issues.

Allow our attorneys at Pingel Family Law to discuss your default situation. Contact us today at (816) 208-8130.