What Is the Difference Between a Petitioner and a Respondent?

What Is the Difference Between a Petitioner and a Respondent?

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No one really anticipates that their marriage journey will end at divorce court, but when a divorce becomes the inevitable conclusion to a marriage, the next step is often determining which spouse should file for divorce. Depending on the unique circumstances of the breakup, some divorcing spouses race to be the first spouse to file, believing it gives them either an advantage or the emotional high ground, while others may feel reluctant to be the first to take the step or may resist the divorce in the hopes of saving the marriage.

Deciding whether or not to be the first party to file the petition is choosing whether to be a petitioner or a respondent to the divorce. Understanding the difference can help make it easier to decide the best way to move forward.

What Is the Difference Between a Petitioner and a Respondent?

The Petitioner in a Divorce

The spouse who files the initial petition for dissolution of marriage (divorce) is the petitioner in the case. There is no particular benefit or disadvantage to filing for divorce first since Colorado no longer requires either party in a divorce to claim fault—such as a spouse who has committed adultery or abandonment. The petitioner only has to state that the marriage is irretrievably broken. In a divorce, the petitioner is the plaintiff in the case.

In order to file a petition for divorce, one spouse must have been a Colorado resident for at least 91 days. Although Colorado doesn’t demand that spouses hire attorneys during a divorce, it’s highly advisable, especially for spouses with children or considerable assets. After retaining a Denver divorce lawyer, the petition is usually ready for a signature within a day or so and then filed in the correct jurisdiction. The other spouse then becomes the “respondent” in the divorce.

What is a Respondent in a Colorado Divorce?

The respondent in a divorce is the spouse named in the divorce case who did not file the initial petition. Typically, a process server or other official will personally serve the petition for divorce filed by the petitioning spouse. When a spouse is served with the petition for the dissolution of marriage, it comes with an official summons, which means the law compels them to respond. In the petition, the respondent will find the spouse’s requests, including for the division of marital assets and requests for temporary child support and sometimes for spousal maintenance (alimony).

Respondents in a Colorado divorce have 21 days in which to file a response to the divorce petition. Respondents living outside of Colorado have 35 days in which to file a response. As the respondent in the divorce case, the spouse has the opportunity to agree with their spouse’s demands or to disagree with them. Signing and returning the response means the respondent agrees to the temporary injunctions automatically placed on respondents in a divorce. This injunction prohibits certain behaviors, such as:

  • Hiding or disposing of marital assets
  • Confronting or harassing their spouse
  • Removing children from the state without the other spouse’s consent
  • Canceling or modifying health insurance, property insurance, renter’s insurance, or car insurance covering the other spouse and any minor children of the marriage

If the respondent fails to file a response to the petition for divorce, the court can compel their response or the petitioning spouse can obtain a default divorce order in which the respondent has no voice in the final decisions about child custody and the distribution of marital assets.

It’s important to note that the response does not lock a respondent into the terms of the petition. Before the final divorce decree, there are ample opportunities to come to the table to negotiate terms and attempt a mutually acceptable divorce agreement. If both petitioner and respondent cannot come to terms in a settlement agreement, they’ll go before the judge with the help of a Denver family law lawyer to argue their sides and the judge decides the final orders before issuing the final divorce decree.