What to Expect in Minnesota Divorce Court: Being Served with a Summons and Petition

Being served with initial divorce paperwork can cause a lot of fear and be overwhelming for the recipient for several reasons. Understanding this paperwork and the legal ramifications of being served can help individuals feel more empowered in this difficult time.

What is a Summons and Petition for Divorce?

The summons is a legal document which tells the recipient that they are being sued. It lays out some of the rules and rights of the parties, including timelines for a response.

A petition for divorce is the petitioner’s requested relief to the court. Some attorneys may advise clients to request relief that is unlikely to be awarded to create a perceived form of negotiation leverage. For example, some divorce petitions will include requests for sole custody of the children when that is unlikely to be awarded. Getting your spouse’s petition for divorce should not be a time to panic but an opportunity to get prepared and better understand your case.

Was the Service of the Divorce Paperwork Proper?

Upon receiving divorce paperwork, it is first important to determine if service was proper to know the timeline for responding with an answer and counterpetition. Initial divorce paperwork can be properly served in different ways.

First, by personally serving the other spouse individually with the summons and petition for divorce.

Second, by giving the other spouse a copy of the pleadings and asking that they sign an admission of service. This second approach does not require someone to personally hand it to the other spouse, so it can be emailed or mailed which is cheaper than hiring a process server. It is worth noting that failure to sign an admission of service can result in the respondent having to reimburse the petitioner for service costs. This approach is best for more amicable divorces and sets the tone for working together in finding a positive resolution.

 Third, by using alternative service methods which can be ordered by the court if the petitioner can prove service by the other means is not possible.

When do I have to respond?

The divorce case starts when service of the summons and petition is proper, even if it was not filed with the court. This means that the clock starts for when an answer and counterpetition needs to be served when service is proper. It does not matter if the divorce paperwork is yet to be filed with the court, you still need to respond in a timely manner. The answer and counterpetition is your response to the petition and what you are requesting from the court for relief.

Failure to meet the timelines could result in what is called a default judgment. A default judgment means that the other spouse could get what is requested in his or her petition. Speaking with a qualified attorney immediately upon getting served with the divorce paperwork is important to avoid a potential default judgment. But even if you missed the deadline, there are ways to reopen a default judgment or argue to the court that a default should not happen.

Contact Jonathan R. Engel at (952) 460-9215 or [email protected], if you need to speak with an attorney regarding a Minnesota family court matter.