If you were served with a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or a Petition for Legal Separation (hereinafter “Petition”), ignoring it may result in unfair or otherwise undesirable orders.
If you fail to formerly respond to the Petition within 20 calendar days of service (or within 30 days, if you were served outside of Arizona), your spouse could file an Application and Affidavit of Default. You should receive a copy of this document in the mail. If you fail to respond to the Petition within ten days of the date of filing the Application, a default judgment may be entered against you. Your spouse would then be allowed to go to a hearing without you and request orders for the final Decree. The Court would enter orders without obtaining your input.
While your spouse can only request orders consistent with his/her Petition, there may be details that are not addressed in the Petition that the Court would fill in. For example, the Petition might state that you should pay “an appropriate amount of child support.” At the default hearing, the Court would calculate an actual figure for child support. The Court may rely on your spouse’s avowal as to your income, or other figures, that could be inaccurate. Once a default is entered, you may be able to challenge it, depending on the facts related to the default, but one cannot depend on being successful on such a challenge.
Even if you trust your spouse to be fair, there are relatively simple ways to participate in the legal action to ensure you are protecting your legal rights. For example, you could jointly agree to go to mediation. The mediator is neutral and helps the parties reach a full agreement, making a Court appearance unnecessary. A good mediator could also help prepare all of the Court paperwork, for both parties’ approval and signature. The mediator would submit the paperwork to the Court on the parties’ behalf, to make the process as easy as possible. Because you approve everything, you remove the risk associated with default proceedings and litigation.
Alona M. Gottfried is a family law mediator and attorney in Arizona. If you have questions about mediation, she can be reached at: 480-998-1500 or email@example.com. This is a general interest article only and is not intended to be legal advice. See a legal professional before making legal decisions.
Simmons & Gottfried, PLLC
8160 E. Butherus Dr., Suite #7
Scottsdale, AZ 85260