Despite Illinois being the sixth-largest state by population in the U.S., it has the second-lowest divorce rate in the nation. Therefore, as a Prairie State resident, you may find it shocking to get served with divorce papers. Even if you don’t, it could still be one of the most stressful experiences you could ever go through. Thus, it’s understandable not to want to respond right after receiving the documents. However, you shouldn’t ignore the papers too long, either, as this can lead to a divorce decree you may not agree to. To that end, we created this guide on the steps you must take after getting served with divorce papers. So please read on, as what you learn here can help you decide on the best approach.
Receiving the Petition and Summons
Getting served with divorce papers means receiving a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. Along with this is a Summons. The Petition from your spouse (the “Petitioner” or “Plaintiff”) states they want a divorce. This official document also lists what exactly they want from the divorce. For example, the Petition may say how your spouse wants the agreement on property, asset, and debt division to be. They may also indicate how they would like to handle child custody matters, including parenting time and responsibilities. Moreover, they may include a request for spousal maintenance. The Summons tells you, the “Defendant,” where and when you must file your Answer to the Petition. It also states the date and location of where your divorce court appearance will be.
Filing an Appearance and Answer
Illinois divorce laws give Defendants in a divorce 30 days to file an Answer and Appearance. This starts the day after the service of the Summons. At this point, you have two options: the first is to do nothing, and the second is to respond.
You can choose not to respond to the Petition, which will prompt the court to proceed with the case without you. In that case, the judge will base their decision solely on your spouse’s statement. Under Illinois divorce laws, this is what you call “default judgment.” If you don’t have any problems with your spouse’s statement, you can go with this option. An example is if you agree with everything your spouse says in the Petition.
Responding to the Petition and Summons
If you disagree with what the Petition from your spouse says, please don’t ignore it. Because if the court proceeds with a default judgment, you may not like what they decide without you. This can lead to regrets if you have even the slightest issue with it, such as how to divide your assets. And if you don’t like the court’s default judgment on the divorce decree, you’d have to challenge it. The divorce decree is the legal, formal declaration and finalization of your divorce. It discusses the details of the division of property, assets, debt, and child support. Once the judge makes a default judgment, you can still challenge it. But it would be more complex and time-consuming than if you responded in the first place. Thus, it’s vital to respond promptly yet with caution upon service of the divorce papers. The wise approach is to hire an Illinois divorce attorney. Not only can they help with a divorce hearing, but they can also assist you by doing the following.
Review the Petition
Suppose you decide to participate in the divorce and hire a lawyer to protect your legal rights. One of the first things your lawyer will do is to review the Petition and ask which areas you disagree on. This helps your legal counsel determine the most appropriate way to respond.
Fill Out the Appropriate Forms
Your lawyer will assist you in filling out the appropriate forms for your response. The first form is for your Appearance. Submitting this informs the court that you’d like to participate in the divorce case. It also tells the court that you’d want to explain your side during the proceedings. The second form your lawyer will help you complete is for your Answer. This is your written response to the court stating you agree (or disagree) to the Petition. The form has multiple numbered items that you must answer with either “admit,” “deny,” or “do not know.” Your lawyer will also assist you in writing a counter-petition stating you want a divorce, too. This will prove helpful and handy if your spouse decides to stop participating in the case. Even if they do, you can proceed with the divorce since you’ve filed a counter-petition.
File Your Forms With the Court
After filling out your forms, you must file them with the appropriate circuit clerk. Please note that, under Illinois law, e-filing of court documents is now mandatory. There are a few exceptions, but if you have a lawyer, then you’re not exempted. However, rest assured that your lawyer will assist you in completing this step.
Send a Copy of the Filed Documents to Your Spouse
The circuit clerk will send you back file-stamped copies of the forms you submitted. You must then notify your spouse upon receipt of these stamped forms. You have to provide this notice on or before 5:00 p.m. on the same day you filed the documents with the clerk. To notify your spouse, you must send them a copy of your Appearance and Answer. The address to which you should send these should be in your spouse’s divorce papers. If your spouse has a lawyer, you should send the correct forms to their lawyer. If you have a divorce lawyer on your team, they’ll handle all these steps on your behalf.
Avoid Signing a Divorce Decree Without a Lawyer
Please remember you only have 30 days to respond after receiving a divorce Petition. Failure to do so can result in a divorce decree with terms you disagree with or would like to challenge. In that case, please don’t sign anything without seeking professional legal guidance. Our highly experienced Johnson O’Keefe Family Law attorneys can help with your case. Please don’t hesitate to connect with us today. We can assist you throughout the entire process, starting from the day you get served the papers.