A divorce case starts when one spouse files or serves the initial divorce petition. Once the petition is filed, the other party must be served with a copy of the petition as well as a summons which informs the person of the amount of time he or she has to file a response.

If the person being served lives in Washington State, he or she will usually have 20 days to file a response. If the person lives outside the state, this deadline is extended to 60 days.

When one spouse fails to file a response to the divorce petition within the deadline, the filing spouse can submit a motion for default to the judge in the case. This motion informs the court that the other party failed to file a response, and asks the judge to grant the relief requested in the petition.

In a divorce petition, the filing spouse can ask for multiple types of relief. For example, the filing spouse can create a divorce plan that divides property and debts, creates a parenting plan, sets up child support or spousal maintenance, asks for a restraining order, decides which parent should get to claim the children as tax exemptions, and changes the name of the filing spouse or children.

After a motion for default, the judge could decide to grant some or all of this relief without any input from the non-responsive spouse. However, the court cannot grant additional relief that was not requested as part of the initial petition.

If a spouse never filed a response to the initial petition and never contacts the court at all, then the motion for default can be served without further notice to that person. If the non-filing spouse has participated in the case, then that person must receive notice of the motion of default and will have an opportunity to respond.

Even if the judge grants a motion for default, the divorce will probably not be finalized immediately. The filing party must still complete the 90-day waiting period before the judge will enter the divorce decree. Additionally, the order of default can be vacated in some circumstances if the non-filing party acts quickly.

If you were served with divorce papers, it is imperative that you take action immediately. If you fail to respond to the petition promptly, you may lose valuable rights. At Pacific Northwest Family Law, our attorneys will help you with your response and make sure that you are fully represented through whatever your divorce case may bring.

To schedule your consultation, contact Pacific Northwest Family Law today by calling 509-572-3700.