Divorce is a deeply personal event in a person’s life, but divorce cases are still official court proceedings that are subject to procedural requirements and court rules. One important factor is how the process gets started, and divorce cases are initiated by one spouse filing a petition for dissolution of marriage.


The petition submitted to the court states facts to establish that the court has authority over the spouses and their marriage, and it includes the petitioning spouse’s general requests to the court for the relief he or she seeks. It is then necessary to serve the documents on the respondent, i.e., the other spouse, according to the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure. After service, the divorce process can get underway. However, when the responding spouse voluntarily files the requisite papers without being served, formal service of process is unnecessary.


In some cases, the respondent may fail to file any documentation, appear in court, or participate in divorce proceedings. There comes a point where that person may face a default divorce judgment. When a default occurs, the case proceeds without the other party’s participation. The implications can be severe, but many divorce lawyers in Chicago use the rules to benefit their clients, as well. Here are a few things to know about defaults in divorce cases.

How Default Judgment Happens in Divorce in Illinois

A party could be defaulted by the judge if they do not make some effort to participate in divorce proceedings after being properly served with notice. Service of process is a constitutional law concept, stating that legal action affecting someone’s rights or property cannot proceed until they are officially aware of it. Service of process is the way one is made aware that their rights or property may be adversely affected. Once served, failure to respond in some way could lead to a default.

Implications for Key Issues in Divorce

The legal effect of a default is essentially admitting every fact within the petition for divorce AND allowing the court to make its ruling with only the evidence presented by the petitioning spouse. Specifically:

  • Illinois allows no-fault divorce, and the requirements of the same will be deemed admitted.
  • The judge must look at various factors when making decisions about dividing property and debts, maintenance (alimony), allocation of parenting decisions (custody), parenting time, and other terms. In cases of a default, the judge will hear only one side’s version of the facts concerning the multitude of factors being considered.

Note that a default judgment in Illinois divorce does not terminate parental rights. However, a parent who is defaulted in a divorce will likely not receive parenting rights that match his or her preferences. If that parent tries to go back to court to change the custody and visitation terms, he or she may face challenges.

Why Default Judgment May be a Smart Strategy

When spouses agree on all or most issues, the respondent can waive the service of process. The parties will not need to expend extra costs for service, and they can move their case forward quickly without going through the formalities which are required for serving divorce documents.

Trust Our Divorce Lawyers in Chicago to Advise You

Default divorce judgment in Illinois can be used to your advantage, but you can see that it also leads to harsh consequences. For additional details, please contact Michael C. Craven. You can schedule a free consultation with our divorce lawyers in Chicago by calling (312) 621-5234. Once we review your circumstances, we can advise you on strategies.

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