So, you’ve been served with divorce papers in Illinois.  The first page of those papers should have the word “Summons” on top and then the following instructions, “YOU ARE SUMMONED and required to file your WRITTEN APPEARANCE AND RESPONSE…No Later than 30 days after service of this summons.”  So how do you even prepare this written appearance and response to a petition for dissolution of marriage in Illinois?

File Your Appearance In Your Illinois Divorce Case

The first step to responding to a petition for dissolution of marriage in Illinois is to file your appearance.  An appearance is a filing in the court saying, “I know about this divorce case and I want to be a part of this divorce case.”  It requires nothing more than your name and address.  The address you put on your appearance will be the address that the opposing party must send all correspondence to.  Additionally, you can provide an email address where you can accept correspondence.

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

Most counties in Illinois now require electronic filing so you’re going to have to register with the county clerk’s electronic filing system in order to file your appearance in your divorce.  In lieu of that, you could hire a divorce lawyer who will already be registered with that system.

Notice of Filing Appearance

Anytime you file anything with the courts, you are obligated to provide the other side with notice at the address of their choosing.  That address will be on their petition for dissolution of marriage.

You must file with the court a notice of your filing and mail or email that notice to the opposing party or counsel at the address provided.

What Happens If You Don’t File An Appearance In A Divorce Case In Illinois?

If you don’t file an appearance in your Illinois divorce case, you cannot appear physically in court.  You may arrive in court and state your name but the domestic relations judge will politely tell you to file your appearance and return to court on the next court date. 

If you don’t file your appearance, the opposing counsel will likely file a motion to hold you in default after the 30 day time period has tolled.  If you are in default, the opposing party can proceed without you.  This means the opposing party will ask for and, most likely, get whatever is listed under the “WHEREFORE” part of their petition for dissolution of marriage.

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

After your appearance for your divorce case is filed, you are also required to file a response to a petition for dissolution of marriage.  This probably feels overwhelming to the layperson but, in fact, it is very simple.

Every document filed in an Illinois divorce proceeding must start with the case caption.  That’s the Petitioner vs. Respondent followed by the case number.

After the caption, your answer should be titled “Respondent’s Answer to Petitioner’s Petition For Dissolution of Marriage.”

After the title, you’ll need an opening paragraph which reads, “NOW COMES the Respondent, (Your name), and in response to petitioner’s Petition For Dissolution Of Marriage states as follows:”

You’ll notice that the petition for dissolution of marriage has a series of numbered paragraphs.  These numbered paragraphs are called “allegations.”

You can simply admit or deny the allegations with nothing more than an “ADMIT” or “DENY”

So, if your spouse’s first paragraph says “1. The parties were married June 8, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois” you can simply respond by writing, “1. ADMIT”

You can do this brief response for each respective paragraph on your spouse’s petition for dissolution of marriage.

Sooner or later, one of the numbered allegations in your spouse’s petition for dissolution of marriage will be an allegation you do not agree with.  For those allegations you can simply write “DENY”

If you find one of the allegations to be vague or confusing to the point where you don’t feel like you can definitively admit or deny that allegation, you may write “NEITHER ADMIT NOR DENY and demand strict proof thereof”

You can get into the details of why you deny each allegation but details are not required in an answer to a petition of dissolution of marriage in Illinois.  It is the petitioner’s burden to prove those allegations not the respondent’s duty to disprove them. 

How Do I Answer The Prayer For Relief In a Petition For Dissolution Of Marriage In Illinois?

Below all of the numbered allegations will be a new section in the petition for dissolution of marriage that starts by saying: “Wherefore, Petitioner asks the court to order the following:”

Then, a list of things the Petitioner wants the court to do based on the above allegations will be enumerated. This second list is called “the prayer for relief.”

The prayer for relief is usually what gets people really upset. I usually tell my clients, “A prayer for relief is like a letter to Santa Claus, you ask for everything you could possibly want but you know you’ll only get a few things.”

You do not have to answer the prayer for relief.  Many people simply include their own prayer for relief at the end of their answer.  This isn’t required and should probably only be done in a counter-petition for dissolution of marriage.

Do I Need To Notarize My Response To A Petition For Dissolution of Marriage In Illinois?

No.  Filings in a divorce case do not need to be notarized.  But they do need to be signed.  In addition, you should always include an affidavit and verification that everything in your response is true.

The inclusion of an affidavit and verification can be used by the court if for some reason you are not able to testify as to your answer in court. 

That affidavit and verification should include the following language, “Under penalties as provided by law pursuant to 735 ILCS 5/1-109, I certify that the statements set forth in this instrument are true and correct except as to matters therein stated to be on information and belief, and as to such matters, I certify that I verily believe the same to be true.”

What Happens If You Don’t File A Response To A Petition For Dissolution Of Marriage In Illinois?

If you do not file a response to a petition for dissolution of marriage, you are essentially admitting to all of the allegations in the petition for dissolution of marriage.  The opposing party can file a motion to hold you in default and proceed to prove up the case in court and ask for everything in the petition’s prayer for relief…and probably get it.

So, file a response to the petition for dissolution of marriage.  It’s easy.  It’s the other stuff like discovery, marital settlement agreements, parenting plans, and hearings which are hard.

File A Counter-Petition For Dissolution of Marriage

Unless you do not want to be divorced, it would behoove you to file a counter-petition for dissolution of marriage. 

Use the same caption as your spouse’s petition for dissolution of marriage and make your own allegations and include your own prayer for relief.

One of the reasons you need a counter-petition for dissolution of marriage is that if your spouse suddenly withdraws their petition for dissolution of marriage the divorce proceeding is effectively over. 

This can often happen right before trial if the results are not looking good for the petitioner.  Withdrawing the petition for dissolution of marriage lets the petitioner restart the divorce process with a brand new judge and hopefully a better prospective result. 

You do not want to give the petitioner that opportunity.  So, file a counter-petition for dissolution of marriage.

Starting a divorce case in Illinois is relatively easy.  All the other aspects of divorce are the challenging part.  If you’d like a free consultation with an experienced Illinois divorce attorney, please contact my office.