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Divorce Pleadings: What Are They and How Do They Work?

As the first step in the legal process of divorce, a Complaint for Divorce (a pleading) must be completed by at least one spouse in order to initiate proceedings. While the requirements concerning the specific content outlined in a divorce complaint, also referred to in some jurisdictions as a “petition”, vary depending on the state in which the divorce is occurring, there are general guidelines regarding the details each complaint should contain. Here, the experienced advisors at Rodier Family Law outline the details on what you should know about the pleading stage of a divorce proceeding.

What is a Complaint for Divorce?

A Complaint for Divorce,, is the initial document filed by a party to a divorce case in the Court which is then served on his or her spouse (the opposing party). When the complaint is served on the opposing party, the act is called “service of process.” The complaint includes essential details concerning the divorce and the aspects of the couple’s lives that the divorce will be affecting, such as property, child custody, and spousal support.

The party who files the Complaint is referred to as the “Plaintiff,” and the person who the petition is being served on is deemed the “Defendant.”  The Defendant then files an Answer to the Complaint (admitting or denying the allegations set forth in the Complaint) and may file a Counter-Complaint for Divorce (to which the Plaintiff then files an answer). While both members of the divorcing couple take on different roles concerning the completion of the divorce papers, it is important to understand that both members generally have the same rights throughout the divorce process, regardless of whether they are the Plaintiff or Defendant (or Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant or Defendant/Counter-Plaintiff).  It is necessary to properly draft the Complaint to include requests for any and all relief that may be available or desired by a party – failure to plead certain relief could result in a party being denied relief such as certain property, support or alimony, monetary award, etc.

What is Contained within a Complaint for Divorce?

The Maryland Rules requires require certain information to be included in the Complaint, such as the grounds for divorce, the details of marriage and the residency statement. Grounds for divorce are determined by statute and can include, for example, adultery, living separately for a specified period of time, having entered into a separation agreement that resolves some or all issues,  or an otherwise applicable reason. Details of the marriage are also required, such as the date of and place where the marriage occurred. A party must allege certain facts regarding his or her state and county of residence in order to verify proper jurisdiction and venue. A party must also, of course, allege that a marriage occurred on a specific date and the location of said marriage.  If there are minor children the Complaint should state the names and, potentially, the dates of birth or ages of each child, as well as where the children have lived since birth (and with whom).

What happens if a party is served but does not file an answer?

Usually, if an Answer is not filed within thirty days of the party being served with the initial divorce petition, the plaintiff can request that a default be entered by the court.  The default allows a party to move forward in obtaining a divorce without the cooperation of the other party. The defendant may be able to be removed from default under certain circumstances.  Default practice is governed by statute.

Speak to an Attorney at Rodier Family Law About Your Divorce Concerns

The process of filing for divorce can be a stressful and extensive undertaking, but the experienced family law attorneys at Rodier Family Law are here to assist you throughout the entire process. If you would like to speak to an advisor about a specific question concerning your divorce complaint, or if you have any questions regarding the intricacies of the divorce process, contact us today!