Definition of a Petitioner and Respondent in a Legal Document

By Mark Kennan - Updated June 16, 2017
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"Petitioner" and "respondent" are legal terms used to describe the parties involved in a legal action. In civil cases, the petitioner is the party that instigates the legal action and the respondent is the person being sued. For example, in a divorce case, the petitioner is the spouse filing for divorce and the respondent is the other spouse. A defendant in a criminal case becomes a petitioner in some circumstances, such as if he seeks to have his conviction expunged.

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Appellate Cases

In appellate cases, the party names work a little bit differently. The party appealing the judgment of the lower court is the petitioner and the party that prevailed at the lower court is the respondent, regardless of who filed the initial case. For example, if a defendant is convicted of a crime at trial and appeals, the defendant will be the petitioner and the government will be the respondent.

About the Author

Mark Kennan is a writer based in the Kansas City area, specializing in personal finance and business topics. He has been writing since 2009 and has been published by "Quicken," "TurboTax," and "The Motley Fool."

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