Divorce Process, After the Summons Is Served

Once the summons is served, what happens next? First, if the summons is personally served within the State of New York, the defendant has 20 days to respond. If the defendant is served outside the State of New York, the time to respond is 30 days.

The response comes in the form of a Notice of Appearance when only a Summons with Notice is served, or a Notice of Appearance and Answer if a Summons and Complaint are served. If you are the defendant, you will want to be sure you file the appropriate papers within 20 days of service by filing the document(s) with the county clerk’s office and sending a copy to the plaintiff or their attorney if the plaintiff is represented. Failure to do so may cause you to lose any right to contest relief sought in the divorce. You could lose custody of your children, your property, be ordered to pay support, etc., if you do not respond.

What if you are the plaintiff, and the defendant fails to respond? You may apply for a default judgment of divorce. What this means is applying to the court to grant you the divorce and any relief you are seeking on the basis of defendant’s default and failure to respond. Please note that the 20-day period is not a “drop-dead” deadline, and that the court regularly allows defendants to respond beyond the 20-day period.

Once you apply for a default judgment of divorce, the court may either grant you the judgment, or schedule the matter for a court appearance to give the defendant a chance to respond. The matter is often scheduled for a court appearance if you are seeking anything beyond the divorce itself (i.e., you want custody of the children, to keep the home, etc.).

In the next posting, I will discuss what happens when the divorce is not taken in default (when the defendant responds).