If you got a notice that your spouse started a divorce case against you, you have 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. 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:
- 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.
When you file your forms with the clerk they become part of the case. The clerk will stamp your forms. This stamp is important because it's proof that you filed the form with the court.
- E-filing: The documents you want to file with the court have to be uploaded into the system. You will need to create an account. See E-filing Basics for details.
- Paper filing: If you are paper filing bring the forms to the clerk at the courthouse in the county where you are filing. Bring all your copies and the originals with you when you file. Ask the clerk to stamp all your forms. They will keep the original. Keep at least one copy for your records. See courthouse locations.
You should do this at the courthouse in the county where the case was filed.
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.