Response to petition for dissolution of marriage (divorce) in California
The topic of this blog post is the filing of a response to a petition for dissolution of marriage (divorce) in California. The response must be on the Judicial Council Form FL-120 Response-Marriage (Response) which is a mandatory form. If there are minor children under the age of 18 years old of the marriage or relationship involved a Declaration under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (Declaration) Judicial Council Form FL-105 must be used as this is also a mandatory form.
A Response should be filed in any case where the two parties have not already discussed an amicable divorce settlement. The filing of the Response will avoid any default being entered against the responding party and will ensure that they are on equal legal footing with the petitioner. The filing of a Response does not prevent the two parties from reaching an amicable settlement. It merely protects the interests of the responding party. The Court will charge a filing fee when the Response is filed, in most counties the filing fee is currently $395.00 unless the responding party can qualify for a fee waiver. The responding party should call their local Court to verify the correct filing fee for their particular county.
In most cases the original Response, and Declaration if there are minor children, must be filed with the Court within thirty (30) calendar days from the date that the respondent is served. A copy of the Response, and Declaration if needed, must be served by mail on the petitioner, or their attorney if they have one, and a proof of service must be filed along with the original Response, and Declaration.
The appropriate boxes must be checked on the Response. As each case is different, the party responding should take care to ensure that the Response is filled out correctly. The Declaration must also be correctly filled out.
If the responding party anticipates that the reaching of an amicable settlement is not feasible at the time that they file their response, it may make sense to consider propounding discovery to the petitioner. Discovery can be very helpful to each party in evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of their case, facilitating a possible settlement, and in preparing for trial.
Parties in California divorce proceedings can utilize the same discovery procedures as are used in California civil litigation as the same rules and procedures are applicable unless another statute or rule has been adopted by the California Judicial Council. See Family Code § 210.
Form Interrogatories for divorce and other family law cases are available using Judicial Council Form FL-145. This form is extremely useful as the questions are specifically tailored to the issues involved in a typical case. For instance a party may ask the other party to provide the last three (3) years tax returns, and also to complete a Schedule of Assets and Debts, Judicial Council Form FL-142, if that form is attached to the Form Interrogatories and the appropriate box is checked. The other party has thirty five (35) calendar days to respond if the Form Interrogatories are served by first class mail.
In the opinion of the author, the Form Interrogatories should be utilized and served concurrently with the Response even in a simple case as they are relatively easy and can be completed fairly quickly. Proper use of the Form Interrogatories is an easy and quick way to obtain the most information with a minimum of effort.
Special Interrogatories are also extremely useful as a party can request the other party to state all facts, identify all persons having personal knowledge of the facts, and all documents in support of the facts, which support the other party’s request for attorney’s fees, sole custody, spousal support and other requests or contentions made in that party’s Petition or Response.
The requests for production and inspection of documents and other tangible things can be useful in obtaining bank and financial records and other documents that are pertinent to the issues involved in the divorce proceeding.
And last, but certainly not least, requests for admission can be used to request the other party to admit or deny certain pertinent facts, and/or admit that certain attached documents are genuine.
In a more complex case involving a long term marriage (over 10 years), minor children, and numerous community property assets and obligations, all of the discovery requests mentioned in this blog post should be at least considered, if not actually used.
The most important thing to keep in mind is the fact that a party served with a petition for divorce should file a timely Response or they risk a default being entered against them. As previously mentioned, the filing of a timely Response will protect the interests of the responding party. And it does not prevent the two parties from reaching an amicable settlement.