When one party to a marriage decides to end the marriage the first step toward legally doing so in New York is to file for divorce. If your spouse has filed for divorce you will be served with a copy of the Complaint for Divorce along with a Summons. Your spouse is required by law to serve you with both documents. The Summons will indicate how long you have to file a formal, written Answer to the Complaint. If you don't respond to a divorce complaint in New York you will waive your right to contest not just the divorce itself but also the terms of the divorce. For this reason, you should consult the experienced attorneys at Simon & Gilman, LLP the moment you are served with a Complaint for Divorce.
Divorce can be a mutual decision; however, it is very common for one party to want the divorce while the other party wants to try and save the marriage. Not that long ago the party seeking a divorce was required to prove grounds on which a divorce could be granted, such as adultery or abandonment. Though some states still allow a party to allege specific grounds, most states, including New York, now allow "no-fault" divorces. In essence, this means that the party petitioning for divorce is not required to show fault on the part of either party to be granted a divorce. This also means that the Respondent cannot prevent the divorce from happening. Not responding to a Complaint for Divorce, therefore, does not halt the divorce process. Instead, it only serves to waive your right to contest any of the terms of the divorce, including things like child custody, child and spousal support, and division of assets and debts of the marriage.
In the State of New York you have only 20 days (30 if you live out of state) from the date you are served with the Complaint and Summons to respond. If you plan to respond you need to file an official written Answer with the court addressing all of the points in the Complaint. If no Answer is filed, your spouse can ask the court for a default judgment 45 days after you were served with the Complaint and Summons. Your spouse will ask the court to give him or her a divorce and include all of the terms requested in the Complaint. Because you failed to respond, the court will likely do just that - give your spouse a divorce on his or her terms. The end result could be that you lose assets, get stuck paying for debts that aren't yours, get limited visitation with children, and/or are ordered to pay a disproportionate amount in child or spousal support.
To prevent a default judgment from happening, consult the experienced attorneys at Simon & Gilman, LLP.