Service in an Illinois divorce

Russell Knight

Russell D. Knight has been practicing family law as a Chicago divorce lawyer since 2006. Russell D. Knight amicably resolves tough cases while remaining a strong advocate for his client’s interests.

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I Was Served With Divorce Papers In Illinois. Now What?

Service in an Illinois divorce

Divorce is hard.  It would be nice if everyone could proceed with a divorce on a schedule that accommodates their own personal physical, emotional and mental needs.  Unfortunately, that’s not how divorce works in Illinois.  Once a person has filed and served the divorce papers on the other party, a clock starts ticking.  So, if you were served with divorce papers in Illinois, what are your next steps?

The papers you’re served with usually are two different documents: 1) The Summons and 2) The Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.

What Did I Get Served With?

The summons is basically an announcement that a lawsuit has begun and you must participate. An Illinois summons will say “YOU ARE SUMMONED and required to file your WRITTEN APPEARANCE AND RESPONSE…No Later than 30 days after service of this summons.” 

The Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is the actual complaint that your spouse has filed with the court outlining the elements and grounds for divorce.  Additionally, the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage will include a “prayer for relief” where the petitioner broadly requests from the court things like; a Judgment For Dissolution Of Marriage, division of assets, alimony, child support and a parenting schedule.

Who Served Me The Illinois Divorce Papers?

Sometimes a county sheriff serves divorce papers.  Sometimes, it’s just some guy.

“Process shall be served by a sheriff” 735 ILCS 5/2-202(a)

When the sheriff isn’t serving divorce papers, then it’s actually a private detective agency.

“Upon motion and in its discretion, the court may appoint as a special process server a private detective agency” 735 ILCS 5/2-202(b)

These private process servers are not a group of elite detectives ready to pounce on you with papers.  They’re just regular people who got a detective’s license for the purposes of being a special process server

My law firm hires a middle-aged woman as our special process server so we can discretely serve people divorce papers at their work without making a scene.

Was The Service of Illinois Divorce Papers Even Proper?

Service is proper if any of the following happen.

“[S]ervice of summons upon an individual defendant shall be made (1) by leaving a copy of the summons with the defendant personally” 735 ILCS 5/2-203

OR

Service of summons shall be made “by leaving a copy at the defendant’s usual place of abode, with some person of the family or a person residing there, of the age of 13 years or upwards, and informing that person of the contents of the summons, provided the officer or other person making service shall also send a copy of the summons in a sealed envelope with postage fully prepaid, addressed to the defendant at his or her usual place of abode” 735 ILCS 5/2-203

Basically, if you got served anywhere or anyone over 13 who lives at your house got the divorce papers, you are served.

The process server then files an affidavit of service with the court identifying “as to sex, race, and approximate age the defendant or other person with whom the summons was left and…state the place where (whenever possible in terms of an exact street address) and the date and time of the day when the summons was left with the defendant or other person.” 735 ILCS 5/2-203(b)

Can I Contest My Service Of Illinois Divorce Papers?

I guess you could contest that you were served with Illinois divorce papers…but it won’t go well.

You have to file an appearance for the limited purpose of contesting your service.

Then you have testify in court that you were not, in fact, served or that a person who resides at your house was not in fact served.

When you are in court, the process server or Sheriff will likely say, “yes, I remember serving you” and your spouse will likely just serve you again (or for the first time) while you’re in court.   

So, as you can see, contesting service of Illinois divorce papers is largely pointless.  You should just file your appearance and move on with the process.

File Your Appearance In Your Illinois Divorce Case

After being served divorce papers in Illinois, the first step in the process of dealing with your divorce is filing your appearance.  An appearance is a filing in the court saying, “I am aware of this divorce case and I want to be involved as the respondent in this divorce case.”  

An Illinois domestic relations appearance merely requires your name and address. The address on your filed appearance is the address where  the petitioner must send all correspondence and future pleadings.  You also have the option of providing  an email address to accept correspondence and future notices.

The Cook County appearance form can be found here: http://www.cookcountyclerkofcourt.org/Forms/pdf_files/CCDRN004.pdf

Almost all Illinois counties now require electronic filing.  Each county uses a different system.  You’ll have to register with the county clerk’s electronic filing system in order to file your appearance.  Alternatively, you can hire a divorce lawyer in that county who will already be registered with the clerk’s electronic filing system.

File A Response To A Petition For Dissolution Of Marriage In Illinois

Sooner or later, you are going to have to file a response to the Petition For Dissolution Of Marriage.  If you don’t file a response after 30 days, the opposing party can file a motion for default and ask that the divorce be entered pursuant to the grounds and alleged in their Petition For Dissolution of Marriage…after all, they’re uncontested. 

An Illinois divorce judge will review the proof of service, the grounds and the prayer for relief.  If the prayer for relief, is not unconscionable, the judge will give your spouse everything they’re asking for in a final divorce decree.

After the final divorce decree is entered, you only have 30 days to contest the matter…or your stuck with it.

So, file even the most basic response to the Petition For Dissolution Of Marriage.

Your spouse’s Petition For Dissolution Of Marriage will be a series of numbered paragraphs.  One paragraph for each allegation.  If you agree with the allegation, just write “AGREE.” If you do not agree with the allegation or how it’s stated, just write “DENY.”

For example:

  1. Parties were married on June 1, 2010.

That’s probably going to be correct so you’d respond like so:

  1. AGREE

But if your spouse wrote:

  • Respondent viciously abused me on a daily basis

You’d respond by stating:

  • DENY

That’s it. You do not need to explain yourself if you don’t want to in your response.  Explanations come in later during a trial and the entire evidentiary process. 

An example of an answer to any kind of complaint filed in Cook County can be found here: http://www.cookcountyclerkofcourt.org/Forms/pdf_files/CCMN006_SAMPLE.pdf

What Are The Next Steps In My Illinois Divorce?

After service of the summons, filing your appearance and response, there are literally thousands of possible steps depending on the facts in your case and the strategy and tactics of your soon-to-be-ex-spouse.

I have hundreds of 1000+ word articles about how to deal with each aspect of an Illinois divorce. So, you may want to peruse those articles and study the articles that pertain to the facts of your case.

But, if you’ve filed an appearance and a response, you’ve probably bought yourself a lot of time

The opposing party will probably ask you to do the mandatory discovery or make you go to the mandatory mediation if there are children involved.  Both of these processes take months.

During this time, you should probably consider hiring an experienced divorce attorney to advise you.  Your spouse may even be responsible for paying for that divorce lawyer’s fees.

If you’ve been served with divorce papers in Illinois and would like to know your options, contact my Chicago, Illinois family law firm for a free consultation.