Your options when someone has started a divorce case against you
If you got notice that your spouse started a divorce case against you, you have a two options.
Option 1: Do nothing
You can choose to do nothing. If you do, know that:
- The divorce case will go forward without you. The judge will base their decision on what your spouse says. That could be fine if there are no kids or property to argue about, but could cause regrets if you don’t like those terms. To protect your legal rights and to have a say in the outcome, respond to the divorce papers and go to court. (See Option 2).
- If the court orders a default judgment against you and you want to challenge it, you must file court forms asking the court to vacate the default judgment. File the forms within 30 days of the date on the default judgment. Otherwise, it will be harder to get rid of the default judgment.
Option 2: Respond to the divorce papers and take part in the court case
You can have your day in court.
- To go to court, tell your side, and have a court decide what happens, you must first respond to the divorce papers you received.
- To respond you must file an Appearance form and an Answer form with the court by the deadline.
- Keep in mind that it costs time and money to file an Answer in court. Court cases may take several months and even over a year to finish. Court case costs include:
1. Fill out forms
Fill out and sign the 2 forms with this program that will create the forms for you. Make at least 4 copies of each form when you are done.
- Appearance: This tells the court and your spouse that you are taking part in the court case on your own without a lawyer and that you want the case to be decided by a judge or a jury.
- Answer: A written response to the court stating whether you agree or disagree with the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, that your spouse filed. For more information on this, see Responding to a lawsuit.
If you do not have money to pay court fees, you should also fill out:
2. File your forms with the court
File the 2 forms listed below with the circuit clerk at the courthouse where the case was filed:
- Appearance: You must file this by the return date listed on the court papers you received. If there is no return date, you have 30 days from the day you got the court papers to file your Appearance.
If you got a fee waiver you should present it now, otherwise you will need to pay the court filing fees.
The circuit clerk will stamp and keep the original forms. Have the circuit clerk also stamp the extra copies of your forms. Keep these copies for your records.
3. Send a copy of your Appearance and Answer forms to your spouse by 5:00 PM on the same day you file them with the circuit clerk
- Send a copy of your stamped Appearance and Answer forms to your spouse. If your spouse has a lawyer, send a copy to the lawyer. You can find the lawyer's contact information on the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage;
- Send the copies in the way you said you would on the Answer form, whether that was by hand delivery, by mail, or by email. (You may only send the forms by email if the other party has agreed or you are sending it to the other party’s lawyer).
- Keep one copy of each court stamped form for your records.