Q & A: What does ‘default’ mean in the context of a Minnesota divorce?

If the respondent does not answer the Petition within 30 days after it was served, the respondent is in default. The petitioner's attorney tells the court and a default hearing is scheduled. Default hearings are also scheduled when all of the relief to be ordered by the court has been agreed to by the parties in a written agreement called a Stipulation or Marital Termination Agreement. If both parties are represented by lawyers, the divorce may be finalized without a hearing. If both parties did not have lawyers or if the respondent never answered, there is a default hearing.

At a default hearing only the petitioner and his or her attorney need to attend. The petitioner is sworn under oath and testifies to all the facts necessary for the court to order the relief requested in the Petition or Stipulation. In most cases the hearing is very short and simple. Most of the questions can be answered "yes" or "no." The judge signs the Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgment and Judgment and Decree that was prepared in advance by the attorney or “pro se litigant” (person representing themselves).

The divorce becomes final when the court clerk "enters" the Judgment and Decree, which means the clerk writes it down on a court list of all judgments. The Judgment and Decree contains the final decisions of the court. Sometimes it is a week or more after the default hearing before the Judgment and Decree is entered. The court clerk may send a copy of the Judgment and Decree to the petitioner's attorney. This attorney serves the respondent with the final Judgment and Decree and gives a copy to the petitioner.

There is no waiting period in Minnesota—the divorce is completely final when entered.

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