12 STEPS OF DIVORCE: THE BASICS – Step 2 – Response to Petition for Dissolution

Each month for one year, the Andersen Law PC blog will spell out the 12 steps of divorce.

The following is a roadmap with the basics for 12 steps of a divorce proceeding. The intent is to walk you through the process a simple step at a time.

(To see the process in a more personalized, real world context, follow the blogs on the Aingel and DeVille families: the Aingels relatively soaring through the process while the DeVilles crash and burn.)

 And if you want to divorce in less than a year, feel free to call me at 720-922-3880 or email beth@andersenlawpc.com with questions specific to your situation. I am happy to walk you through your own next steps and to answer questions in your complimentary initial phone or videoconference consult.

Here is where the year will take us:

January – serving and filing a petition for dissolution

February – responding to the petition

March – sworn financial statement, disclosures, and parenting classes

April – initial status conference

May – discovery and depositions

June – professionals:  CFI, PRE, vocational evaluator, appraisals

July – motions to compel and telephone conferences

August – temporary orders

September – mediation

October – parenting plans and separation agreements

November – witnesses, pretrial deadlines and permanent orders

December – QDROs and other post decree issues

FEBRUARY: RESPONSE TO THE PETITION FOR DISSOLUTION

A Response to a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (“Petition”) involves several steps, all of which are fairly simple and straightforward, including the Response document itself.

STEP ONE: REVIEW THE PETITION 

You are literally responding to or answering the allegations in a document called a Petition for Dissolution of MarriageRESPONSE TO THE PETITION FOR DISSOLUTION. Andersen Law PC - Divorce Basics

Your Response needs to respond to each allegation in that Petition.

You cannot do this without actually reading the Petition, which you should do with an eye to the following.

  1. Was it served on you properly? Unless you waived service, the other party should use a process server. You may want to waive service by filling out a Waiver of Service to get things moving along.
  2. Are you listed as Respondent or Co-Petitioner? The other party is “Petitioner,” but you will be either “Respondent” or “Co-Petitioner.” These are different. A Respondent means they served you or brought you in through waiver of service as the opposing party. Co-Petitioners mean you filled out the Petition together. Sometimes a Petitioner calls you a Co-Petitioner when that is incorrect. Make sure that did not happen to you.
  3. Is it the right proceeding? What are they seeking? If they say “dissolution” that means divorce. But what if you were not married? Then perhaps it should be an “allocation of parental responsibilities.” What if you are common law married and they seek allocation of parental responsibilities? Your rights vary with each proceeding. Make sure you agree that it should be a divorce if they are seeking divorce. Know your options. Some parties want a Legal Separation. If the marriage was based on a material fraud that goes to the heart of the marriage, you may want to seek Invalidity of Marriage (annulment). You do not want to suffer through a three-month proceeding only to find out it was the wrong proceeding.
  4. When is your Response due? You have 21 days after waiving service and 35 days after being served. Make sure they put the correct date for service. Sometimes a party will tell the court the wrong date and schedule an Initial Status Conference without the Respondent knowing. Calling the court to make sure everything was filed can be a good idea.
  5. Do you have a court date? Sometimes the other party set an Initial Status Conference or made a motion for emergency relief and set these things as part of the Petition. Check. You must NEVER MISS COURT!
  6. What jurisdiction? This means the court where the proceeding was filed. If they picked the wrong place, you may be able to change the venue (the court location) to where you live.
  7. Are all the “allegations” (statements) in the Petition accurate? If so, you should agree with them. If not, you should “deny” the inaccurate statements and write down the actual facts. For example, if the other party says the date of your marriage was February 14, 2001, and it was actually February 14, 2010, you can say “Paragraph # is denied. The date of marriage was February 14, 2010.”
  8. Is information missing? If so, you will want to fill it in.
  9. Are they saying something unknown to you? Sometimes the other party will say something and you will not know whether it is true. For example, the other party may say they live in Las Vegas, Nevada. Meanwhile, you heard they are living in Aurora, Colorado. You do not know the truth for sure. In that case, say “Respondent lacks information sufficient to admit or deny the allegation in paragraph #.”
  10. What relief is the other party (Petitioner) seeking?
  • Maintenance (That means alimony or spousal support **link to blog on maintenance***) If you think this is definitely being paid to them, you may click the box for Maintenance or agree this is an issue. On the other hand, if you think you will be getting maintenance, but they did not mark the box, you should ask for it.
  • Child support. Similar to maintenance, the parties may differ on whether this is an issue.
  • Name change. If you want to change your name back to your premarital (aka maiden) name, ask for this.
  • Division of assets and debt. This is always an issue in divorce, even if you do not have much. If nothing else, you will want to agree that you already divided these things. In most cases, this is the most complicated issue, and it requires a spreadsheet to make sure property is properly valued and divided. You want to designate your Separate Property as separate so you do not need to share it with the other party. Even where there is not much to divide beyond debt, you want the Petitioner to take on his or her share of it. Always seek this relief.
  • Parental responsibilities. This is always an issue if you have a minor child or minor children together or if the wife is pregnant with a child with the spouse. Sometimes it may be an issue if you have a disabled adult child.
  • Attorney fees: Colorado law allows a low-income party to have the other party pay some or all attorney fees in some situations. They are other times attorney fees may be paid, such as in the case of a frivolous claim.
  • Other relief: Like many items, this is something you may want to discuss with an attorney.

As you may have guessed, having an ATTORNEY can be invaluable for the strategic portions of interposing a Response. While the Response form is relatively easy to complete, it is deciding what to seek and how to state it that is important and sets you on the right track in the divorce.

You may feel like the other party has a leg up on you by filing first. Not necessarily. You can catch up quickly if you take the right steps. But it is an adversarial process with critical deadlines. Do not sit back and do nothing. Protect your rights.

 

STEP TWO: PREPARE YOUR RESPONSE

You will want to complete a Response.

Use the format discussed in sections 1(g), (h) and (i) above to admit, deny, correct or state that you lack information sufficient to admit or deny an allegation. You can also add information and seek relief not stated or sought in the Petition.

Some attorneys counsel their clients to skip the Response to save the filing fee. I do not think this is a good idea unless you are a Co-Petitioner or already agree with everything in the Petition. Even then, be wary.

I handled a divorce in which the opposing party did not ask for maintenance in his Response to a Petition. Months later, at hearing, he asked for maintenance. The judge denied maintenance simply by saying the party did not seek it in the Petition. This is NOT to say you will be this lucky in fighting maintenance at final orders. It IS a warning of what might happen when you do not submit a Response.

If you cannot afford the filing fee and are in poverty, you can file an Affidavit of Indigency **link** to avoid the court fee.

You do NOT as a rule need to verify your Response before a notary. Simply signing it is enough. Make sure your address and contact information are accurate and legible. The court will use it to mail court papers to you.

With unbundled legal services, I can review your Response quickly and make suggestions. Because this is a pay-as-you-go service, my retainer is less than for full-service representation.

STEP THREE: SERVE AND FILE YOUR RESPONSE

You do NOT need to hire a process server for the Response. Mailing it or handing it to the other party is enough. Do not hand them your original; they get a copy.

Then fill out the certificate of service, making yourself a copy. File the original with the court. Make sure you get your copy stamped “filed” by the court to prove you filed it. Courts lose things. You need proof you filed the Response or it is their word against yours that you did. This advice goes for EVERY pleading you file.

Take a deep breath. The divorce process has only just begun.

Next month: Step Three: sworn financial statement, disclosures, and parenting classes.

If you need help getting through all the steps of your own divorce, contact Andersen Law PC today. Email beth@andersenlawpc.com or call 720-922-3880.

 

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