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by Samuel K. Darling, Bellevue Divorce Lawyer

How do you respond to a petition in a divorce or family law matter in Washington State? Fill out the form titled Response to Petition [case-type]. In a divorce, for example, the document is a Response to Petition about a Marriage. You can find the relevant form for your case-type on the Washington State Court Forms Website under Family Law > [name of case-type]. File your response with the court, serve a copy on the other party(ies), and keep a copy for your records.

The remainder of this article provides more detail and answers related questions.

I. How Long Do I Have to Respond to a Petition in Washington?

Advice on Responding to Divorce Petition

Usually you have 20 days. Those 20 days begin when you were served, such as when you signed an acceptance of service form or someone handed papers to you or to a co-resident at your home. If you were served outside Washington State, the response deadline extends to 60 days.

Service by publication (rare) further extends the response deadline to 90 days, as does service by mail (rare and requires special court permission). If you have questions about service of papers, click the link in this sentence.

There is one large exception to these service rules. A party can mail papers for child support modification without court permission, and it works as personal service. That is, the response deadline is 20 days if the other party mailed the documents to your home in Washington and 60 days if he or she mailed the child support petition and supporting materials to your home outside Washington.

Responding by the deadline is crucial. If you do not, the opposing party can obtain a default order, often without any notice to you. A default order prohibits you from participating in the case.

There is only one instance in which you should elect not to respond – when you agree with all the relief the other side requested in the petition. If the other side’s requested relief is subject to interpretation, such as if the other side proposed dividing all property fairly, you should timely respond and preserve your right to participate.

II. The Deadline for Responding to a Motion is Different.

Often the petition and supporting materials arrive with a document called a motion (and/or “show cause order“, “immediate restraining order“, or “order to go to court”). Don’t be lulled into assuming a response to the petition is all you need to file. You also need a separate response to the motion, which has its own deadline. Click here for an article on responding to a motion.

III. How Do I Fill Out the Response to a Petition?

Here is an example of a completed Response to Petition for Divorce. Thankfully the form explains itself.

Often you will want to check the boxes at the bottom indicating if you want affirmative relief. Affirmative requests for relief – asking the court to do anything other than dismiss the case – function as a cross petition. This in turn prevents the other side from unilaterally dismissing the case if it starts going poorly for him or her.

Notably, be careful checking the boxes for any any affirmative relief if you intend to contest the court’s jurisdiction or venue. Requesting affirmative relief normally waives jurisdictional objections.

Also of note, in a divorce, there is little point asking the court to find your marriage invalid or to contest whether the court should grant a divorce. Generally, these arguments are foregone conclusions. The court will almost always grant a divorce if either spouse requests it.

If children are involved, you should consider submitting a proposed parenting plan and proposed child support worksheets along with your response to the petition, though you can do so later if you prefer. We have an article with types and examples of parenting plans and another article on running child support calculations. You can find the forms for parenting plans and child support worksheets on the Washington State Court Forms Website under Family Law > [case-type, e.g. “Divorce”].

IV. Can I Edit Washington’s Mandatory Form for a Response?

Yes, you can edit the form. For example, you might need to edit the form if the petition’s paragraph numbers do not match the response template. This happens periodically when Washington changes its numbering for the mandatory form petition or response.

You also might need to edit the mandatory form for a response to petition in order to assert a counterclaim, such as asking for third-party custody of your stepchild during your divorce. Adding a counterclaim exceeds the scope of this article and is rare in family law.

V. Where & How Do I Send My Response?

Makes several copies of your response, file the original with the court clerk’s office for the county of your case, and save a copy for yourself.

Lastly, serve copies on all the other parties in the case. If the state or a Guardian ad Litem has appeared, serve a copy on each of them too. For more, see section three of our firm’s article explaining how to serve documents.

VI. What If I Missed the Response Deadline?

Run! File your response and get it to the petitioner soon as you can by any method possible, such as email. Hopefully the court or other party will see your response before the other side obtains a default order. As long as you respond before the default enters, you should be safe. Neither the court nor opposing party is supposed to proceed with a default if you responded, even if you failed to serve the response properly.

VII. Is that All I Need to Do to Defend Against My Spouse’s Requests?

No, the petition and response simply start the case. Our firm has or intends to write a separate article outlining the entire case, from petition to final orders.

We hope you found this helpful. Our firm believes in making quality legal information freely available on the internet. For more, please visit our website and click on the resources tab in the upper right corner.

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