Petitioner vs. Respondent in Divorce

Parties to Divorce Cases: Who Are They?

Divorce involves several rules and procedures that need to be followed. The process may be unfamiliar to some people who don’t know what to do or what the legal terms mean.

A divorce process has a petitioner and a respondent. The spouse who files for divorce is called the petitioner. On the other hand, the spouse on the receiving end of the divorce petition is called the respondent.

The petitioner and the respondent both have specific responsibilities. Understanding each party’s roles and responsibilities can help you prepare and provide insight into the divorce process.

Divorce is difficult enough without worrying about your responsibilities as either the petitioner or the respondent. Consider hiring a knowledgeable divorce lawyer so you can more easily navigate the whole process.

Filing a Divorce Petition in Court

To get a divorce or a dissolution of marriage in Missouri, one spouse must have lived in the state for at least 90 days before the initial divorce papers are filed.

Missouri is a “no-fault” divorce state, so spouses are not required to present evidence of adultery, family violence, or other wrongful conduct by the other spouse. The fact that the marriage is “irretrievably broken” and there is no likelihood the marriage can be preserved are the legal grounds for divorce.

The petitioner must file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and state certain basic facts and what they are asking the court to do. Petitioners must sign the petition and swear to the truth of the facts contained in it before a notary public.

What Is the Petitioner’s Role?

An individual who files for divorce is known as the petitioner. A divorce petition is a document that asks a court to dissolve your marriage and issue a court order decreeing property division, debt division, financial support, parenting time, legal custody of minor children, etc. Typically, the court cannot give a spouse anything they don’t request and include in their petition.

Following the filing of the divorce petition, the respondent must be formally served with the divorce papers by their spouse. Several methods are available for serving legal papers. Petitioners can hire a special process server to deliver the papers to their spouses or ask for a deputy sheriff to serve their spouse. In St. Louis, having the deputy sheriff serve the pap0ers is less expensive than hiring a special process server. The least expensive method of achieving service is to have your attorney prepare what is called a “Waiver of Service of Process and Entry of Appearance.” The Respondent will sign this in front of a Notary Public and the signed document will be filed with the court. That document is proof of “service and also tells the court that the Respondent is acting as their own attorney until (and if) they hire an attorney). Our Waiver and Entry form also provide that we may proceed without further notice to the Respondent. We use these is cases where all issues are decided and most often we are filing the divorce petition and the required documents and a signed separation agreement and judgment for the judge to sign 30 days later. The Entry and Waiver is required because there must be service before a divorce may be granted and one attorney cannot represent both parties in a divorce case. 

If you fill out and file the petition yourself, you risk overlooking something important or filling it out incorrectly, which could result in you starting all over. A lawyer can assist you with the entire process or, at the very least, go over the petition with you after it has been completed in order to avoid any mistakes and protect your legal rights.

In St. Louis, there are forms available online for folks to handle their own divorce without lawyers. We assume that the overwhelming number of those proceed smoothly, but we handle several cases every month where the divorce could not be completed and it seems to cost more than it would have if we handled the case from the beginning.

Who Is the Respondent in a Divorce?

In the case of a divorce, the person receiving the paperwork may have already discussed the matter with their spouse and is expecting to be served with the paperwork. It may also come as a surprise. When the paperwork is filed, it can feel like a match between the petitioner and the respondent, whether they are expecting it or not.

Respondents must promptly respond to documents to demonstrate their intention to actively participate in the divorce proceedings. In addition, the respondent can object to the divorce petition’s requests, including property distribution, child custody, and parenting time.

Under Missouri law, the Respondent will have 30 days to respond to the petition by filing a responsive pleading. Petitioners have the right to request a default hearing if the respondent fails to answer within 30 days. Notice of a default hearing must be sent to the respondent at least seven days before the date, informing them of the hearing’s time, date, and location.

A default judgment is issued if the respondent disregards the petition and fails to appear at the scheduled hearing, in which case the petitioner’s requested terms will virtually always be granted. As a result, the respondent has no right to dispute the divorce conditions, and the divorce will proceed regardless of what the respondent tries to do. A divorce under these circumstances will immediately put you at a serious disadvantage.

    Can an Attorney Help You Through Your Divorce Process?

    There are many issues that should be addressed during the divorce process. Just because Missouri offers an option for a quick do-it-yourself divorce doesn’t mean that it is the best solution for your particular case. The emotional toll of divorce is immense. The spouses who decide to end their marriage often find this legal process incredibly daunting and complicated.

    That is why it can be in your best interest to hire a divorce attorney who can guide you through the complex legal system. Since the decisions you make during the divorce can impact the rest of your life, having a professional divorce law firm such as The Carson Law Firm by your side can prove to be a valuable asset in a divorce proceeding.

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