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What Is the Difference Between a Complaint & a Petition?

By Beverly Bird

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In many respects, the terms complaint and petition are interchangeable. Both are pleadings -- they initiate legal proceedings. One party files the document with the court and the other party responds with a written answer. There’s a subtle difference between them, but not all states recognize it, particularly in the area of family law.

Similarities in Pleadings

Both complaints and petitions identify the person or entity filing the lawsuit and the person or entity he’s suing. With a petition, the filing party is the petitioner; with a complaint, he’s the plaintiff. The person being sued is either the respondent in a petition or the defendant in a complaint. Both documents explain the claim being made, such as a request for divorce or monetary judgment. Both explain why the petitioner or plaintiff feels that he’s entitled to these things.

Differences in Pleadings

Technically, a complaint asks the court to award monetary damages or obligate the defendant to take some action. A petition only asks the court to make a ruling on something, such as the termination of a marriage. But terminating a marriage usually involves monetary issues as well, so when it comes to divorce, some states use petitions and some use complaints. In some states, complaints are filed in contested matters and petitions are used when a divorce is uncontested. If your lawsuit involves damages -- financial reimbursement for some civil wrong -- you would almost certainly have to file a complaint.

References FindLaw: Starting a Lawsuit -- Initial Court Papers Free Legal Dictionary: Petition Ohio Legal Services: Legal Separation, Divorce and Dissolution Texas Law Help: Original Petition for Divorce (PDF) Legal Services of New Jersey: Divorce in New Jersey (PDF) About the Author

Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.

Related Content Types of Pleadings in a Divorce How to File for Divorce in Toledo, Ohio How to Cancel a Legal Separation How to Get a Divorce Case Dismissed in Florida How to File for Divorce in Will County Illinois

Free Online Legal Forms-Complaint For Injunctive Relief COMPLAINT FOR INJUNCTIVE RELIEF

Attorney name




Attorney for Plaintiff, _______________________




________________________ ) Case No. _________

Plaintiff(s) )



________________________ )

Defendant(s) )


Plaintiff, ______________________, alleges:


1. Plaintiff is now, and at all times mentioned in this complaint has been, __[state facts that show plaintiff's status and interest in subject of action, e.g., "Plaintiff is the owner of certain described real property�/ or Plaintiff is a shareholder of _________corporation engaged in the business of�].


2. Defendant, _________________, is now, and at all times mentioned in this complaint has been, [state facts that show defendant's status in relation to plaintiff, e.g., " Defendant is the owner of certain described real property�/ or Plaintiff is an officer __________ corporation engaged in the business of�].


3. On or about ______, and continuing to the present, defendant has wrongfully and unlawfully [state particular wrongful acts done by defendant as well as general course of conduct or if acts have not yet been committed, but are imminent, so state].


4. On or about ______, and at other times between that date and the present, plaintiff has demanded that defendant refrain from committing the above named acts, but defendant has refused and has threatened to continue such acts.


5. As a result of defendant's acts, plaintiff has sustained/will sustain great and irreparable injury in that [state specific damages that will result and why they are irreparable].


6. Plaintiff cannot be fully compensated in damages, is without an adequate remedy at law because the exact amount of damage plaintiff will sustain will be difficult to determine, and [state any other facts showing

inadequacy of legal remedy].


7. As a further result of defendant's acts, plaintiff has sustained damage in the amount of ________ dollars ($ ). If these acts are permitted to continue, plaintiff will be further damaged in an amount to be alleged when additional damages have been determined.


WHEREFORE, plaintiff demands judgment for:


1. State character of relief sought, e.g., temporary restraining order/preliminary and permanent injunction enjoining _______________________ from engaging in or performing any of the following acts:


2. Damages against defendant in the amount of _____________ dollars ($ ).


3. Costs of this action and other just relief.





Attorney for _______________________




These forms are provided AS IS. They may not be any good. Even if they are good in one jurisdiction, they may not work in another. And the facts of your situation may make these forms inappropriate for you. They are for informational purposes only, and you should consult an attorney before using them.

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