To initiate a divorce proceeding, one spouse files with the court a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage against the other spouse. The spouse who files for divorce is the petitioner and the other spouse is the respondent in the matter.
If you are the respondent, then you will be served with copies of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and a Summons by either a sheriff or a special process server, depending on the method the Petitioner uses to obtain service. The Summons requires you to file your written appearance and response within 30 days from the date that you were served and you will need to file said documents at the courthouse indicated on the Summons itself. That means that as the respondent, you have 30 days to decide whether you want to obtain an attorney or whether you wish to represent yourself. If you decide to go with an attorney, you should provide him or her with the petition and summons so that the attorney can begin preparing a response and inform your attorney of when the 30-day deadline is to expire. If you prefer to represent yourself, you will need to file a pro se appearance with the court indicating you will be representing yourself, as well as an answer to the petition.
However, if you (or your attorney on your behalf) fails to file an appearance within the 30-day period, the petitioner can then file a motion for a default judgment seeking the relief that was set out in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, including but not limited to asking the court to dissolve the marriage. Thus, it is very important for the respondent to take immediate action before the deadline lapses in order to participate in the divorce proceedings.