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I Was Served Divorce Papers: Now What?

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Receiving divorce papers can be a shocking and leave you wondering, “Now what?” Instead of panicking or feeling defeated, just take a step back, gather your thoughts, and strategically navigate this emotionally overwhelming experience known as divorce. There are a number of critical steps that everyone should take after being served divorce papers, from reading the documents you received to protecting your finances and evaluating possible child custody arrangements, and getting a response filed with the clerk of court. By following these guidelines, you’ll be better equipped to handle the challenges that come with divorce and ultimately reach a resolution that best serves your interests and protects your children.

Quick Answers

Understanding the Divorce Papers You Received

Comprehending your divorce papers is important to ensure a smoother and less contentious divorce process. When you are physically able, you should meticulously scrutinize these documents upon being served with divorce papers, as they specify your spouse’s legal demands and the formal allegations against you.

The consequences of not responding after being served divorce papers can be severe, potentially resulting in your spouse receiving a default judgment and the court proceeding without your involvement. You should hire an attorney as soon as possible, even if your opposing party is unrepresented.

Jurisdiction is a legal issue that can complicate the case, because the best practice is normally to raise any and all jurisdiction issues in writing before filing any other pleadings in court. If you respond to the Petition for Dissolution or file an appearance form with the clerk of court, this usually means that you are submitting yourself to the jurisdiction of the court. So, be careful. Because all of these issues can be extremely complicated and have serious legal consequences, make sure that you obtain the assistance of an attorney as soon as possible after being served with divorce papers.

Divorce Petition and Summons

You are supposed to receive the divorce petition and summons during the initial stages of divorce proceedings. The petition outlines your spouse’s requests, such as child custody arrangements, property division, and spousal support. The summons, on the other hand, provides information about the court where the case was filed and the response deadline. The summons may also notify you of your legal obligations. Read and review the Dissolution Stay provisions, which usually are on Page 2 or on the back of the summons with which you were served. Ignoring these documents may lead to unfavorable outcomes, so it’s crucial to review them thoroughly and act accordingly.

Understanding key terminology and legal jargon can help you navigate the divorce process. Consider these commonly used terms to help you better understand your case with the following simplified definitions:

Petition: written request filed with the Court

Answer: written response that admits or denies each of the numbered paragraphs contained in the petition

Dissolution: divorce or legal end to marriage

Maintenance: spousal support, also referred to as alimony

Equitable division: an allocation of debts and assets that is fair and consistent with the requirements provided by law

Parental rights and responsibilities: custody, decision making authority, and child support are some of the many parental rights and responsibilities provided by law

Summons: formal documentation that provides you notice of the court case and specifies certain obligations

Entry of Appearance: a simple document (usually one page) that provides your address and an address at which you agree to accept notice

Litigation: the process leading up to and including the Court deciding the outcome after hearing evidence or arguments, often described as the opposite of settlement

Jurisdiction: the authority that gives the court to make decisions about you and your divorce

Grasping these terms will empower you during negotiations and help you make informed decisions throughout the divorce process.

Finding the Right Attorney

Choosing a divorce attorney proficient in family law is an important component to the successful handling your divorce case. Attorneys tend to fall into one of two categories: either problem-solving attorneys or problem-making attorneys. Make sure that you retain an attorney that is solutions oriented and more interested in resolving the case rather than creating problems where they do not exist or where they do not need to be.

To find the right attorney, consider researching potential candidates by reviewing online testimonials, seeking referrals from friends or family members, and investigating the attorneys’ backgrounds and experience. During interviews, evaluate their communication style, fee structure, and compatibility with your needs and expectations. By choosing an attorney who aligns with your goals, you’ll be better positioned to reach your desired outcome.

Responding to the Divorce Papers

To avoid a default judgment against you, it is necessary to respond to the divorce papers within the stipulated time frame. In the case of an Illinois divorce, for example, you have 30 days to appear and answer or submit your response to the divorce papers in Illinois. To ensure you achieve your desired outcome, make sure that you:

  1. Consult with an attorney before doing anything else
  2. File an appearance
  3. Prepare an answer
  4. Gather financial records
  5. Plan for possible custody arrangements

By taking these steps, you demonstrate your commitment to participating in the divorce proceedings and asserting your rights. Note that you should not file any documents, if you have an attorney, unless your attorney directs you to do so. Generally, you will not be filing any documents personally if you decide to be represented by a lawyer in your divorce case.

Filing an Appearance

Filing an appearance is a formal process that indicates your intention to participate in the divorce case. By doing so, you submit yourself to the jurisdiction of the court and ensure your voice is heard in the proceedings. To file an appearance, visit the clerk’s office or the web site of the county courthouse where the case is being heard and provide the necessary information. This crucial step helps prevent the court from proceeding without your input and protects your rights throughout the divorce process.

Preparing and Filing an Answer

Preparing the answer to your spouse’s divorce petition is an important step in addressing their requests and making your position known to the court. With the help of your attorney, you can evaluate the claims in the divorce papers and formulate a response that best serves your interests. To get a head start, you should write down a separate numbered list to identify whether each numbered paragraph in the Petition for Dissolution is either true or false. If you identify a numbered allegation of the Petition for Dissolution to be false, explain the reason that the allegation is false. This will help your attorney in the preparation of the formal answer to the Petition for Dissolution that is required to be filed with the Clerk of Court.

Protecting Yourself with Documentation

Especially when safeguarding your assets and parental rights, maintaining organized and detailed records during the divorce process is of utmost importance. After receiving divorce papers, keeping a record of all of your purchases is a proactive measure to safeguard your financial future, such as opening separate bank accounts and gathering financial records.

You will also be well-served to keep a journal of all interactions with the other parent, if kids are involved, as well as all noteworthy observations about the children. By doing so, you’ll be better equipped to negotiate a fair division of property and ensure your financial well-being remains intact.

Gathering Financial Records

Collecting financial records is a crucial step in ensuring a fair division of property during the divorce process. Create a list of all bank accounts and other financial accounts, including the date the account was open. You also should make a list of all of your home addresses and prior employers for the past five years. Gather bank statements, tax returns, credit card statements, and other financial documents that may be relevant to your case. In addition, inventory your individual assets, including collections and collectables, vehicles, real estate, investments, and other property.

Creating a Custody Journal

The best approach to protecting your children and your parental rights is to document all interactions that relate to your children in the form of a custody journal. You should utilize the same notebook or digital document to keep all of your child related records in one centralized location. You should jot down every time you speak to the opposing party, whether the communication was verbal or by text message. Notate the date and time of the interaction, how long it lasted, and a summary of the substance of the conversation. You should write down every occasion where you drop-off the children to or pick-up the children from the opposing party. You should be able to look up which dates you had the children and which dates your opposing party had the children, just by looking it up in your custody journal. You should take notes about the routines of the children, as well as their teachers and their doctors. Any special needs or medical incidents that occur regarding your children should be documented. This will help you stay organized and will help you protect your children.

Write Down Your Questions

You will have many questions with few answers, as you begin this divorce process. What is the legal grounds for divorce? Can I have my divorce case dismissed? How do I get custody? What is a parenting plan? How do I protect myself in a divorce? Questions such as these can cause a great deal of anxiety for people just served with divorce papers. You should write down each and every question you think of, as soon as you think of it. Add to your list of questions every time you think of a new question. This will help you be ready, because forewarned is forearmed. When you have the opportunity to speak with your lawyer, you should use your question list to guide the discussion and to help you gather all of the information you need so that you can receive the best guidance possible.


Navigating the divorce process after being served papers can be challenging, but by understanding the documents you received, securing legal representation, and maintaining organized and detailed records, you can better protect yourself in this unfamiliar situation. Whether you reach a settlement agreement in lieu of trial or you have to litigate your case to a resolution, taking proactive steps as soon as you are served with divorce papers can help you protect yourself and find a new path forward.

Consult with Divorce Attorney Zachary Townsend

Call or text today – (815) 200-8802

During your consultation, Attorney Townsend will go over the history of your legal matter, ascertain your goals, and help you develop a new path forward for you and your family.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do you have to respond to divorce papers in Illinois?

You have 30 days to file your appearance and response after being served with a dissolution of marriage in the State of Illinois. You should retain an experienced divorce lawyer to take these steps for you, rather than attempting to take these steps on your own.

What to do when you get served divorce papers in Illinois?

When you receive divorce papers in Illinois, the first thing you should do is find a lawyer to represent you. You will be required to file a completed Entry of Appearance form and an Answer to the Petition for Dissolution by a specific deadline, which is typically a period of 30 days after service of process. The Answer to the Petition for Dissolution normally contains responses that either admit or deny each numbered allegation of the paragraphs alleged in the Petition for Dissolution. You also will have the option of filing a Counter-Petition for Divorce against the person who had you served with divorce papers initially, which would have to be filed in the same Court in which your spouse filed the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.

What are the consequences of not responding to divorce papers?

The consequences of failing to respond after being served with divorce papers can be severe. Failing to respond to divorce papers can lead to the Petitioner being granted the relief they request in your absence. When a judgment is entered in your absence, the phrase to describe the outcome is a “judgment by default.” You should be sure to follow the required deadlines so that you are not defaulted in divorce court.

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