What if my spouse does not respond to the divorce papers?

Last updated October 2017

If your spouse does not respond to the divorce papers, it could be a little bit of a headache but it is not fatal. The rules may differ slightly in each state but the concept is the same. If your spouse does not respond to the divorce papers, after a certain number of days, you can get a default judgement of divorce.

In a New York divorce, if your spouse does not “answer” (that is legalese for “respond to the divorce papers”) after 30 days, you are likely to get your divorce by default, meaning the trial court will sign the judgment of divorce and that should be the end of the matter. Except, of course if you are asking for ancillary relief such as custody, child support and equitable distribution of assets. Even if the court signs off on your judgment, if this was a DEFAULT situation, it can still be challenged later on by your spouse.

So it is better in a case where there are issues such as custody and equitable distribution that your spouse respond to the divorce papers and that you sign a stipulation of agreement with him or her, or that the court conducts an inquest, and that you submit proper documentation to prove your case (even if your spouse does not answer.) Otherwise, this could be subject to a challenge later on by your spouse, and sometimes, the decision to award you custody, or a certain percentage of assets or spousal support or what have you could be overturned.
Needless to say, that would be a tedious situation so you have to really do your best to serve your spouse so that you can get a final judgment of divorce with all the ancillary issues taken care of in a court of law. That way your spouse cannot come back and say they didn’t get those papers and turn everything on its head.

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