Attorney Eric D. Puryear

Avoid Defaults in Civil Cases

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Those who have been served with papers in a civil case (e.g. a divorce, custody, child support, lawsuit, or other such case) should remember that there are strict deadlines that must be met to avoid a Default or other negative consequences in the case.


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A Default is when the court rules in favor of the Plaintiff/Petitioner (the person who filed the court case) and against the Defendant/Respondent (the person who was served with the papers) due to the Defendant not taking proper action to address the case.  Essentially, if a Defendant just ignores the case or doesn’t file the right legal documents, then the Defendant loses.  When the court grants a Default, it will often give the Plaintiff everything that they requested, which can be a very negative situation for the defendant.

In a lawsuit over money, the Defendant can be made to pay the amount of money the Plaintiff had demanded in their lawsuit.  In a custody or divorce case, a Default can result in the Respondent losing custody of children, losing property, and suffering other harm.

In Illinois, a Defendant generally has 30 days to Answer or otherwise address a court case that is filed against them.  In Iowa, there is a 20 day + 10 day timeframe to respond.  It is important to note that those timeframes are the amount of time to have a responsive pleading on file with the court. That means that a person who has been served with papers should immediately seek an attorney, as it takes time to properly review the court documents and prepare a response.


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For those people against whom a Default has been entered, it is sometimes possible to correct the situation by filing the appropriate Motion with the court.  Such a Motion must be quickly filed and properly argued to the court, for it to have a chance of succeeding.  There is no guarantee that the court will grant the Motion.  In the best case, where the court does the grant the Motion and sets aside the Default, time and money were expended unnecessarily, as the Default could have been avoided by acting in a timely fashion.  For all of those reasons, it is best to properly address a lawsuit or other court case, so as to avoid the negative consequences of a Default.


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