What Happens If You Ignore A Divorce Summons

Recently a client's husband was personally served with a Divorce Summons by my process server at his home address. The Summons states he has 20 days to appear and answer. The husband tried to close the door on the process server and has since ignored the summons. Thereafter, I sent the Husband a Notice of Default which prompted a phone call from the Husband to my office but nothing else.

When a Divorce Summons remains unanswered after proper service, the spouse is in default. While the preference of the court is not to hold a person in default given the seriousness of the dissolution of a marriage, they will if necessary.

If the case is simple, the plaintiff (in this case the wife) will have my office prepare numerous documents for the court and the case will be placed on the "inquest" calendar. An inquest is basically a one-sided trial. The wife will be allowed to testify and provide proof of her grounds for divorce, reasons for sole custody, child support, spousal support and the requested distribution of marital assets and debts. The husband who is in default, is still allowed to attend the trial and cross-examine witnesses (although this rarely happens) but is NOT allowed to testify or present proof in opposition to the claims of his wife because he is in default.

Since New York permits no-fault divorce, the non-answering defendant has everything to lose and nothing to gain by remaining in default. The consequences of ignoring the Divorce Summons are significant and may affect future financial stability for many years as well as the right to participate in decisions affecting the children of the marriage.

If you have been served with a Divorce Summons and have not responded, I urge you to contact my office for a consultation so that your rights can be protected.