The divorce process in Minnesota begins either with a joint petition for divorce (if both spouses agree on the issues) or with one spouse filing a summons and petition. If one spouse files a summons and petition, the other spouse is formally served with the divorce papers in order to make sure he or she has received them. Once the papers have been served, the recipient spouse (called the respondent), has the obligation to answer the summons. The respondent has 30 days to file an answer with the court.
What if One Spouse Does Not Respond to a Divorce Petition that Has Been Served?
Most people respond to a petition for divorce because they want to be a part of the process and want to have some say on issues of support and regarding how child custody and marital assets are divided. However, sometimes one spouse will not want the divorce and/or will not be interested in cooperating and so will not respond.
If you are the spouse who receives divorce papers, you should always respond under every circumstance or you will lose control of the process and could be legally bound by decisions that affect your finances and relationships and that are made without your input. If you are not certain about how to respond or what steps to take when you receive a divorce petition, you should consult with a divorce attorney for assistance and advice as soon as you can.
If you are the spouse who filed the divorce papers and whose husband or wife has not responded, then you can proceed with the divorce anyway even without cooperation. When the respondent has received the papers and failed to file an answer within 30 days, the spouse who filed the papers can ask the court to enter a default judgment against the respondent. Essentially, this means you are asking the court to enter a judgment without the respondent present.
To obtain a default judgment, you will need to request one from the court. Along with your request, you’ll need to include a copy of the original divorce petition as well as a proposed judgment of divorce and a fairly complex legal document called the “Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.” The judgment of divorce should give you everything that you were seeking to obtain during the divorce, including the right to any marital property that you wish to keep. The “Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law” summarizes the steps in the divorce litigation leading up to the request to enter a default judgment.
The court will review the information and decide how to proceed. If there are no kids involved, the court may simply grant the default divorce after receiving the paperwork and you’d get everything you asked for. If there are kids, however, it is common for the court to require the spouse who filed for divorce to come to a hearing where the judge will ask questions to discern what is in the best interests of the child.
The outcome in almost all default divorce cases is that the petitioning spouse gets everything he or she asked for, including the desired custody agreement, because the respondent isn’t there to argue for him or herself.