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What happens when a spouse doesn't answer the divorce petition?

In Minnesota, a divorce proceeding is commenced when the party asking for the divorce - called the petitioner - has a Summons and Petition served upon the other spouse, who is called the respondent. The respondent has 30 days to serve a formal answer to the petition, unless the petitioner agrees to an extension. In the absence of an agreed extension, if the respondent fails to serve an answer within 30 days he or she is deemed to be in default. This means the divorce will be uncontested and the court will grant the divorce and other relief the petitioner has requested.

When the 30-day deadline to answer the petition has passed with no extension and no answer served, the petitioner's lawyer can contact the court and schedule a hearing to enter a default judgment. The default hearing is usually very brief. The petitioner will testify to the essential facts that will allow the court to grant the divorce and the other relief sought by the petitioner, such as alimony, child support and child custody.

Sometimes a respondent who missed the 30-day deadline can get a default judgment set aside, if he or she acts promptly and provides the court with a plausible reason for not serving an answer in time. There is no guarantee the court will be sympathetic to a respondent in this situation, however.

Anyone who is served with a divorce petition in Minnesota needs to act promptly. Failing to do so can mean not having one's views heard and not having any input in how property is divided, who gets custody of the children, and whether alimony or child support must be paid. Contacting an experienced family law attorney right away can save a lot of trouble later on.

Source: lawhelpmn.org, "Getting a Divorce: A Basic Guide to Minnesota Law," accessed Oct. 23, 2016

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