When a case is initially filed, the filing party must provide the other party with notice. This is called Service of Process. This is done by serving the other party with a Summons and a copy of the document that was filed. (Example: Petition for Dissolution of Marriage). A Summons is an official notice that a legal proceeding was filed and that you are a named party. The Summons states what type of proceeding has been filed. The Summons explains that you must file a written Appearance and an Answer in the Circuit Clerk’s Office within a certain number of days, often within thirty (30) days. Under most circumstances, the Sheriff’s Department or a private process server will serve the Summons, along with the document that was filed. It is common for service attempts to be made at a party’s residence or at their place of employment. Service of Process is completed when the server hands the Summons and the filed document to the other party. Service of Process is also completed when the server hands the Summons and filed document to someone who lives in the party’s home, as long as the recipient is over the age of thirteen (13).
It is crucial that you file your written Appearance and Answer by the deadline, so that the Court knows you are participating in the legal proceedings. Do not ignore the fact that you have been served. The clock is now ticking. If you do not file your Appearance and Answer by the deadline then the filing party is able to motion the Court for relief by asking for the entry of a Default Judgment.
Although it may be possible to vacate a Default Judgment after its entry, it is highly recommended that you avoid getting into this situation altogether. Judges are not impressed when court proceedings are ignored and without valid justification, it is unlikely that a Judge would grant a request to vacate a Default Judgment. The best way to avoid this uphill battle is to simply file your written Appearance and Answer in a timely manner. Be proactive and protect yourself.