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Answer

If you were served with a complaint or petition for divorce, you must file an answer, which is essentially a response. 
 

After the defendant is served with the initial petition for divorce (also known as the complaint for divorce or petition for dissolution of marriage), they are required to file an answer to the petition. The spouse filing the petition for divorce is known as the "plaintiff" or "petitioner." The spouse responding the to the petition for divorce with an answer is known as the "defendent" or "respondent." The purpose of the answer is to respond to the plaintiff’s allegations and to assert any defenses or counterclaims the defendant may have against the plaintiff.  The answer may either be prepared and filed by the defendant or prepared and filed by the defendant’s attorney.

When Must the Answer be Filed?

Timeliness is extremely important when filing an answer. The defendant must serve an answer within 20 days after being served with the initial pleading. A copy of your answer must be mailed, e-mailed, or hand delivered to your spouse. If the defendant fails to file an answer, he or she may be subject to penalties and the petitioner may file a ‘motion for default.’ This means that the plaintiff may continue with the case and set a final hearing where the judge will make a decision without the defendant’s cooperation. 

What is the Purpose of the Answer?

In the answer, the defendant will admit or deny each of the divorce petition’s allegations in short and plain terms. The defendant may choose to admit or deny the allegations of the petition as a whole or individually. If the defendant has insufficient information, the defendant may specify their inability to admit or deny the allegations. Furthermore, in the answer, the defendant may include a counterpetition that can request the same or additional relief or action, such as alimony or child support. The answer may also include "defenses" to certain allegations if the defendant and their attorney feel this is necessary. 

Defenses

Defenses of insufficient service (defendant was not served properly), lack of personal jurisdiction (the court does not have juridiction over the parties), and improper venue (plaintiff filed in the wrong court from a location standpoint), must be raised before or at the time of the answer. If these defenses are not raised prior to or at the time of the answer, these defenses will be waived. Filing an answer to a claim of divorce or alimony and responding to the allegations asserted in the action generally waives all defects in the service of process. Thus, it is important to assert these defenses in the answer or prior to submitting an answer in the case.

What Must a Counterpetition Contain?

  1. Jurisdiction/Residence – One of both of the parties (Husband or Wife) must have lived in Florida for at least 6 months before filing the counterpetition. 
  2. Marriage History - The counterpetition must contain the date of marriage, the date of separation and the place of marriage. 
  3. Children -  If there are no minor children, the counterpetition must state that fact. If there are minor children and/or the wife if pregnant, the counterpetition must state that the wife is pregnant and/or the name(s) and birth date(s) of any minor children common to both parties. 
  4. Other Children – The counterpetition should also let the court know about any other children like children born or conceived during the marriage that are not common to both parties and/or children over 18 years old but who are dependent on the parties due to mental or physical disability. 
  5. Financial Affidavit – The counterpetition must affirm that a completed financial affidavit is completed and filed with the petition or will be timely filed thereafter.
  6. UCCJEA – If you have minor children you must complete a Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act Affidavit. It must be attached to the counterpetition and filed with the petition.
  7. Social Security Information – A completed Notice of Social Security Number Form.
  8. Grounds for Divorce – A counterpetition must contain the statutory grounds for divorce (the legal reason the divorce should be granted).
  9. Marital Assets & Liabilities - If there are no marital assets or liabilities the counterpetition must state that fact. If there are marital assets or liabilities, you must first affirm that they are or will be listed in the accompanying financial affidavits. Next, the counterpetition must state whether the parties have agreed to how the assets and liabilities will be divided in writing. If there is no agreement, the counterpetition must state that the court should determine how the assets and liabilities of the marriage will be divided. 
  10. Alimony – If a spouse is seeking alimony this must be mentioned in the counterpetition otherwise that spouse will waive their right to seek alimony. The counterpetition must contain a statement that a party is either seeking alimony or forever giving up his/her right to seek alimony. If a party is seeking alimony the counterpetition must state how much will be paid, the frequency of payments and the length of time alimony will last. The counterpetition should also explain why alimony is being requested and what type of alimony is being requested. 
  11. Parenting Plan – If there are minor children involved, the counterpetition must state who the children are currently residing with and whether parental responsibility (decision making authority) will be shared by both parties or awarded solely to one party. The counterpetition must also state whether a proposed Parenting Plan detailing the time sharing arrangement with the children is included and whether that proposed plan has been agreed to by both parties. If there is no proposed parenting plan, the counterpetition must request the court should establish one.
  12. Child Support – If there are minor children involved, the counterpetition must contain a request for child support and must affirm whether a completed Child Support Guidelines Worksheet is or will be filed. The counterpetition should also state who will be responsible for obtaining and paying for medical/dental insurance. Additionally, the counterpetition must state who will be responsible for uncovered medical expenses for the children or how those expenses will be split between the parties. 
  13. Wife’s Maiden Name – If the wife chooses, the counterpetition must contain a request that the Wife be known by her former name. 
  14. Requests – The final section of a counterpetition should summarize to the court what the spouse is asking for.

If you have questions about the answer, the deadlines required for filing, defenses and how you should respond to certain allegations to preserve your rights, then please do not hesitate to contact one of our experienced Orlando or Tampa divorce lawyers. 

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