In my last article, I discussed what happens when the defendant fails to respond to the Summons with Notice or Summons and Complaint. We now turn to what happens with the defendant responds by filing a Notice of Appearance or Answer.
If the defendant files a Notice of Appearance in response to a Summons with Notice, the plaintiff has twenty days to serve the defendant (or the attorney for the defendant if defendant is represented) with a Complaint. The Complaint may be served by mail when the Summons with Notice has already been personally served. The defendant must then file an Answer to the Complaint within 20 days of service (more time is given to respond when the Complaint is served by mail).
Once the defendant serves the Answer, the next step depends on the nature of the divorce action. In many cases, the divorce may be resolved out-of-court with a settlement agreement. Therefore, in many situations a settlement agreement is drafted at this point or even earlier in the divorce proceedings. If a settlement agreement is signed by both parties, in most cases no one will need to physically appear in court.
If the parties cannot reach an agreement on all terms of the divorce (property and debt distribution, custody, child support, spousal maintenance/ alimony), then the matter should be scheduled for a court appearance. This is accomplished by filing of an RJI (Request For Judicial Intervention).
In my next article, I will discuss the next step- the court date.