Once the other party has been served with the complaint and summons, you will have to wait and see what the other person does before you know what your next step will be. The other parent has 21 days after being served with the summons and complaint to file their own papers. You can learn about the possible next steps in this section.
If the Other Parent does not file anything after 21 days
You can fill out the final forms asking the judge to enter a default and allow you to finalize the case without the Defendant's signature. There are many forms you need to fill out to do this. You can find all the forms and the steps listed on the How to Get the Final Decree page.
If you do not get a default against the Defendant, he or she can still file their papers past the 21 day deadline. After the 21 days is up, it is usually a matter of who gets to the courthouse first to file their papers.
If the Other Parent filed an Answer
There are a number of things that will happen after the other parent files an Answer. You will have to file some additional papers, and the judge will schedule a hearing that both of you must attend.
Papers You Must File
First, look at the answer to find out if it includes a “counterclaim.” A counterclaim looks a lot like your complaint, and will tell you what the other parent wants the judge to order. It will have numbered paragraphs with each item about the case requested separately.
If the other parent included a counterclaim, you can file a “Reply to the Counterclaim.” Your reply tells the judge what parts of the counterclaim you agree with, disagree with, or do not know enough information about. You only need to write paragraph numbers in the reply. For instance, if you agree with the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd paragraphs in the counterclaim, on the line that says “Plaintiff admits the following allegations” you would write “1, 2, 3.”
Second, you have to file a Financial Disclosure Form within 30 days of when the other parent filed the answer (the other parent has to file one also). The Financial Disclosure Form, or “FDF,” gives information about your employment, your income, and your expenses. You do not need to complete the "Personal Asset and Debt" information in this form. The information on this form helps the judge determine child support and any other financial issues. If you do not fill out this form completely and accurately, the court may rule against you. Be sure to attach your three most recent paystubs to this form.
Wait for a Court Date
If the other parent filed an answer, the judge will set a court date in about 90 days. The hearing is called an "Early Case Evaluation," sometimes also called a “Case Management Conference.” You will receive a notice in the mail from the court with the hearing date included. Visit Case Management Conference for more information about this hearing.
File Motions for Temporary Orders
You might have some issues you want the judge to sort out while the case is going on. This could include where the children should live, when each parent should have time with the children, whether either person should pay temporary child support, etc.
A judge can issue temporary orders to guide the parties while the case is moving forward. Either parent can file a motion for temporary orders at any time before the final orders are granted. Visit Motions for Temporary Orders for more information.
Set a Time to Meet with the Other Party
Some of the items below are technical and involve a lot of specific requirements. You can ask the judge to waive any or all of these requirements. Judges are more likely to waive these requirements if the parties have little or no assets, and/or if there are no minor children.
If you must comply with the requirements below and are not sure what to do, you are highly encouraged to retain an attorney. You can learn more about finding an attorney under Find Legal Help.
Both parties are expected to meet with each other (and their attorneys if applicable) within 45 days after an Answer is filed. The Plaintiff is to set the time and place for the meeting. This meeting is called an "Early Case Conference."
This meeting is primarily to exchange all of the documents described in the next section below. It is also to talk about any issues you can agree to and identify the issues you may need to take to trial.
The parties should prepare a written report from the meeting, called an "Early Case Conference Report." The document should include a number of things, primarily: what documents were exchanged, what documents are still needed, what witnesses were identified, a description of the issues involved in the case, and a proposed trial date. Both parties can sign one joint report, or each party can prepare a separate report to file with the court.
You and the other party are required to voluntarily give each other certain documents and information. This helps both of you collect all of the information you will need to prepare your case. Ideally, this is done at the Early Case Conference explained above.
Once you file your Financial Disclosure Forms, you both should start sending each other copies of any of the following applicable items:
- Evidence that supports what you included in your Financial Disclosure Form. This includes financial statements, documents, or receipts to support the figures you used.
- Evidence of property, income, and earnings. This can include a lot of things. Usually, it means exchanging bank and investment statements, copies of all insurance policies for either party or a child, tax returns for the parties and businesses, and W-2s/1099s/K-1s for the past two years.
- Names of any expert witnesses who may be used at trial.
- Names of nonexpert witnesses who may be used at trial, including their addresses, phone numbers, and a brief description of what the person is expected to testify to.