Default Judgments in Divorce
Disagreements and a lack of cooperation are two of the primary catalysts for divorce, as both spouses experience a loss of connection with one another. While either spouse can initiate the legal process to end the marriage, some amount of cooperation is expected and almost required from both to conclude a divorce case in a timely and efficient manner. However, a Judge cannot force a party to respond or participate in a divorce proceeding if he or she refuses to do so.
A lack of participation by a spouse does not doom a case but puts a Court in a somewhat uncomfortable position. Courts do not like to conclude cases without hearing something from each side; however, if notice of a petition is sent and ignored, a Court will enter a default judgment in favor of the petitioning spouse. A default judgment has serious and permanent consequences for both spouses and is far from an ideal or even fair result.
When Default Judgments Are Entered
When any type of case is initiated with a Court, any party named in the case is entitled to notice of the legal action, including a copy of what was filed with the Court, so he or she has a chance to respond and make an appearance. The spouse receiving notice of a divorce has 30 days to respond, or face the possibility the Judge will enter a default judgment.
If a spouse was anticipating divorce, he or she may have already consulted with a divorce attorney about handling the case, and this attorney would take over filing the necessary response to protect the party's rights. Alternatively, an extension can be requested to the 30-day response period if more time is needed to retain a lawyer or to put a response together.
Problems only arise if a spouse ignores or does not receive notice, and the other party asks the Court for a default judgment. A default judgment basically gives the petitioning spouse everything he or she requested because the other party did not offer anything to challenge the default judgement. However, the party asking for a default judgment is usually still expected to appear before the Judge and prove the demands requested in the divorce are legitimate.
Consequences of a Default Judgment
A default judgment is final, and is treated as the ultimate resolution of a divorce case unless a party can show cause that the judgement should be reconsidered. This means the other party will likely receive the parenting arrangement he or she requested, as well as child support and the wage garnishment to collect it, and property rights over shared assets. Unless quick action is taken, this judgment is fully enforceable, and the party who failed to respond will be required to comply with the judgement's terms.
Reconsider/Vacating the Order
Courts do not like to issue default judgments, so parties in this position have a few options to request another chance. Within the first 30 days after a default judgment is entered, the party who failed to respond can ask the Court to reconsider the judgment, but an adequate excuse for the earlier silence will be needed.
Valid grounds for reconsideration include:
- Notice was not received;
- A medical emergency;
- Active military duty; or
- Personal/family emergency.
If more than 30 days have elapsed, a party can ask the default judgment be vacated, but that is even more difficult to obtain and will likely require additional proof beyond statements made in an affidavit.
Consult an Illinois Divorce Attorney
Divorce is an overwhelming event, and dealing with the divorce petition may feel beyond your capacity. To avoid losing important rights and benefits, let an experienced Palatine divorce attorney take over the complex legal procedure so you can focus on healing and helping your family. The Law Office of Nicholas W. Richardson, P.C. understands the stress of divorce, and can provide the assistance and legal advice you need to begin moving past this difficult time. Contact the Palatine office for a free initial consultation.