1) a formal written request to a court for an order of the court. it is distinguished from a complaint in a lawsuit which asks for damages and/or performance by the opposing party. petitions include demands for writs, orders to show cause, modifications of prior orders, continuances, dismissal of a case, reduction of bail in criminal cases, a decree of distribution of an estate, appointment of a guardian, and a host of other matters arising in legal actions. 2) a general term for a writing signed by a number of people asking for a particular result from a private governing body (such as a homeowners association, a political party, or a club). 3) in public law, a writing signed by a number of people which is required to place a proposition or ordinance on the ballot, nominate a person for public office, or demand a recall election. such petitions for official action must be signed by a specified number of registered voters (such as five percent). 4) to make a formal request of a court; to present a written request to an organization’s governing body signed by one or more members. 5) a suit for divorce in some states, in which the parties are called petitioner and respondent.