How to File a Response to Divorce Papers in California

By Teo Spengler

Woman reading paperwork

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Either spouse has the option of terminating a marriage in California regardless of the desires of the other spouse. So when you are served with a petition for dissolution of your marriage, weeping and gnashing of teeth are a waste of time. You must focus on preparing a timely response in appropriate form that presents the facts as you know them and sets out the relief you wish the court to grant.

Time to File Response

You must file a response to the divorce petition within 30 days from the day you're served with the petition. Mark this day on your calendar and do not miss the deadline. You cannot halt the divorce action by failing to file a response. If you do not file a timely response to the petition, your spouse can ask the court to proceed with the divorce action and the judge can base the judgment on only the information provided by your spouse.

Preparing to File

The first step toward preparing a response is to read the divorce petition – a court form – carefully to determine your spouse's position. The form contains a series of statements identifying the parties and their minor children, describing the timing of the marriage and separation and identifying property as separate or community. At the end of the form, your spouse will have checked off the type of relief he is requesting. It is helpful to mark those statements in the petition you agree with, those you disagree with and those that you feel are incomplete. If you have questions about the petition, you can consult a family law facilitator at the court or a private attorney.

Response Documents to File

In California divorces, all counties use the same basic set of judicial counsel forms. The form for filing a divorce response is FL-120. It looks similar to the original petition your spouse filed. You fill in the blanks in each paragraph. If you agree with your spouse's response to a question, write the same thing. If you disagree or feel the answer is incomplete, give other or further information. Take special care with the request section in paragraph 9, where you state the relief you would like the court to grant. The divorce response is your chance to put facts before the court and make your position known.

Property Description in Filing

Perhaps the most complex area of the petition is identifying separate and community property. California's community property system attributes most income earned and debt incurred by either spouse during the marriage to the community, but the rules and exceptions can be complicated. It may pay to consult a lawyer on these issues.

Filing Your Response

You must arrange to serve your spouse with a copy of your signed response form before you file it with the court. Arrange for an adult to mail a copy of the response to your spouse at the address given in the heading of his petition. Do not do this yourself. Ask the person mailing the document to fill in a proof of service form FL-335 stating the time and place of mailing. Make copies of the response and the proof of service. File the originals with the court and ask the court to file-stamp the copies. You will need to pay a filing free.