Ignoring family law litigation does not make it go away. You can be “defaulted” if you are properly served with legal process, such as a petition and summons, and then choose not to participate in the case. A default judgment may be entered against a respondent who fails to file a court form, called an “appearance,” in a divorce or parentage case within the timeframe proscribed by law.

You can also be defaulted if you initially appear in the case via an attorney who later withdraws with the court’s leave. When allowing your lawyer to withdraw, Illinois courts are required to grant a period of time for you to obtain new counsel or file an appearance on your own behalf as a “pro se” or self-represented litigant. If you do not do so within the allotted time, the case can proceed without you, which could very seriously and adversely affect your rights.

In a divorce, depending on the propriety of the service of process and whether the court presiding over your case has proper jurisdiction over you and/or your children, a family court could allocate the assets and debts of your marriage between you and your spouse, evict you from the marital residence, and order you to pay maintenance (also known as spousal support).  In either a divorce or parentage case, a court can order you to pay child support, require you to contribute to your children’s college expenses, and allocate parental responsibilities (decision-making) and parenting time (visitation).  Your spouse or co-parent can even receive leave of court to move your children out of state.  All of these measures can be entered by a judge without your involvement if you are defaulted. That is why it is imperative that you do not ignore notices and other legal documents you receive while you are a party to a family law case.

Fortunately, as they say, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Default judgments can be undone by a court.  If you receive notice that you have been held in default, or that a default judgment has been entered against you, you should act quickly to remedy the situation.  A default judgment is most susceptible to being undone (“vacated”) by the entering court within the first 30 days following its entry. After the initial 30 days pass (and before the second anniversary of the default judgment), you can still ask the court for relief from the judgment, though your burden in that circumstance will become more substantial. A party moving to vacate a default must present valid reasons for his/her lack of involvement initially, among fulfillment of other legal elements.

The assistance of a knowledgeable and experienced family law attorney, like those of Beermann LLP, can be vital in establishing good cause for a default order or judgment to be vacated.

Craig M. Mandell, Partner
For more information on Mr. Mandell, please visit: www.beermannlaw.com/team/craig-m-mandell.