Petitioner vs. Respondent in Divorce: Understanding Your Role

Deciding to divorce can be difficult. Legal jargon only complicates it further. When it comes to divorce papers and understanding what to do next, it’s important not to get overwhelmed. It can be unclear what you need to do next, and who the paperwork refers to, so we have broken it down to make it simple.

‘Petitioner’ and ‘respondent’ were the terms used to describe people going through a divorce.

The divorce process changed on 6 April 2022 and some of the terminology is different.

The petitioner is now called the applicant. And there’s now the option to apply for divorce with your spouse as ‘joint applicants’, meaning that there may not always be a respondent.

However, if your divorce began before 6 April 2022, you’ll still be known as either the petitioner or the respondent.

For more information about the new no fault divorce system, read our guide: No fault divorce: Everything you need to know.

For divorces that began before 6 April 2022

Who is the petitioner?

The petitioner is the person who has started divorce proceedings.

If you started the paperwork, you are likely to be the petitioner. In the eyes of the law, it is your responsibility to show that your marriage has broken down. You'll choose the grounds for divorce (e.g. adultery, desertion etc) and in some cases provide proof.

You are the ‘petitioner’ because you file the divorce petition which starts the process.

Who is the respondent?

The respondent is the spouse who receives a request for the divorce. As the title suggests, you need to respond to your spouse’s request. This means filling out the required paperwork and sending it to the courts.

You can either accept or defend the divorce petition. This depends on whether you agree with the reasons for the divorce.

Use an ‘acknowledgement of service’ form to go ahead, or an ‘answer to a divorce petition’ form if you disagree.

If you agree, you have 8 days to respond, and if you disagree you have 21 days. Talk to your solicitor about what the best option is for you as the respondent. Be aware of the different charges depending on your course of action.

You are the ‘respondent’ because you are responding to the divorce petition.

Are you the petitioner or respondent?

A petitioner is a person who has initially asked for the divorce. The respondent is the spouse who has received the request. Though you may have amicably agreed to divorce, one of you needs to start the process. That person will be the petitioner from that point on.

There is no advantage or disadvantage to being either the petitioner or respondent. They are simply terms to make it easier to refer to each party during the divorce process.

For divorces that began after 6 April 2022

Who is the applicant?

The applicant is the person who applied for divorce.

As it’s now possible to make a joint application for divorce, you may be known as a joint applicant with your spouse.

Who is the respondent?

Your spouse will still be referred to as the respondent if you apply for divorce by yourself.

Their role is essentially the same as before: they have 14 days to return a completed acknowledgement of service form to court saying whether they agree to the divorce, or if they intend to dispute it.

However, the reasons for disputing a divorce petition are only for technical legal reasons, like if a marriage isn’t valid. The respondent no longer has the option to contest a divorce petition simply because they don’t agree to the divorce.

Are you the applicant or the respondent?

This is a slightly more complicated question under the new divorce system.

If you make a joint application with your spouse, you’ll both be known as the applicant.

If you apply for divorce by yourself, your spouse will be known as the respondent.