What is a Default Divorce Judgment in DC/Maryland?

parties receiving divorce papers

If your spouse has filed for divorce, the divorce proceedings are NOT something that you can ignore. Like any other court proceeding, a divorce starts with filing divorce papers by one spouse, which, generally, must be hand-delivered to the other spouse. Once both spouses have copies of the initial court papers, the court has full power and authority over the divorce. This is a serious matter.

A divorce is a legal proceeding backed by the power of the government. You cannot just refuse to take the divorce papers or ignore the divorce if the papers are successfully delivered. The Washington, DC divorce attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl explains more below.

What happens if I ignore the divorce papers in Maryland/DC?

If you have received divorce papers and you ignore them, the likely result is the entry of what is called a “Default Judgment.” Entry of a Default Judgment is generally “bad” for the party against whom the judgment is entered. Often a Default Judgment gives the other paper everything they asked for.

The process works like this: the initial divorce papers are generally called a “Petition For Divorce.” In the Petition, the spouse seeking a divorce will write out various information, such as when the couple was married and why the divorce is being sought. In addition, the Petitioner will ask the Maryland/DC divorce court for various remedies. These include:

  • Custody of minor children
  • An Order of child support
  • An Order awarding the Petitioner a majority of the marital assets
  • An Order awarding alimony to the Petitioner (or stating that no alimony is due)
  • And more

Once the Petition is delivered to the other spouse, the responding spouse must file a set of court papers answering the Petition. An answering response is somewhat simple in that the response either agrees or disagrees with statements listed in the Petition. For example, if the Petition states that the couple lives at a certain address or that there was abuse by one spouse against the other, the responding spouse will say, in effect, “I agree” or “I disagree.” In this manner, the Maryland/DC court gets a very quick — if brief — summary of what the couple agrees about and where the disagreements are. Likewise, the responding spouse will be able to object to requests for remedies.

Further, a responding spouse can ask for their own remedies. So, a responding spouse can object to PAYING alimony and demand that they RECEIVE alimony. Failing to respond to the Petition means that the statements made in the Petition are deemed accurate and, generally, the requests for remedies will be granted by the divorce court.

A Default is usually a two-step process. After a certain amount of time has passed and the other spouse has not responded to the Petition For Divorce, often, the court will enter a generalized Default Judgment. This is then delivered to the non-responding spouse. In effect, this is another opportunity for the non-responding spouse to hire a divorce lawyer and appear in court.

However, after the passage of some additional time, the divorce court will have a hearing on what is often called a “prove-up.” The divorce court will ask the Petitioner for information about marital assets, for example, and will decide based on the information provided. The spouse who has ignored the divorce papers will not participate and will have no opportunity to present his or her information. Other issues will be heard at the hearing — like requests for alimony — and, ultimately, the court will enter a Default Judgment. The Default Judgment entered by the divorce court will be binding on the spouse that did not respond, and the divorce courts will not be sympathetic to any complaint that the Default Judgment is unfair or in error.

Maryland and DC Divorce and Family Law Attorneys

For more information, contact the seasoned and experienced Maryland and DC divorce attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl. We have the skills and expertise you need. We have proven experience with divorce and family law for Maryland and the District of Columbia. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280. We have offices in Columbia, MD, and Washington, DC.

Scroll to Top