In most cases, a Divorce or Family Law case in California will end in either an agreement or by a Trial Decision written by a Judge. However, in cases where one of the parties does not contest the case, the matter will end in what is referred to as a Default Judgment.
A Default occurs when the person who was served with the divorce case does not file a Response to the Petition for Dissolution in the Court for one reason or another. The California Family Code requires that a Summons be filed and served at the same time as the Petition. The Summons informs the person served with papers, known as the Respondent, that he or she has 30 days to file a Response in the County Court House and serve a copy of the document on the Petitioner or their Attorney.
If there is no Response filed by the Respondent withing 30 days of the service, the Petitioner may file a document known as the Request To Enter Default with the Court Clerk. The Clerk will usually verify that no Response is filed, and immediately file and stamp the Request to Enter Default Form. This will now mean that the Respondent is “In Default”.
The will result in the Respondent being “locked out” of the case and unable to file a Response or contest the matter. The Petitioner will usually have the clerk set what is know as a Prove Up Hearing and bring a proposed Divorce Judgment to Court that day. The Judge will review the proposed Judgment prepared by the Petitioner and make sure that it divides the Community Property of the parties equally. Even if the Respondent is locked out of the case by the Default, the Court must still make sure that the community property is equally divided.
If the Judge finds the proposed judgment to be fair, the Court will than sign the Judgment and have the Clerk enter the Judgment of Dissolution.
It is important to point out that the Default of the Respondent will not block the Respondent's ability to contest Child Custody or Child Support issues. The Respondent will still be able to contest these issues. A parent will never give up their rights to contest a Custody or Support matter just because they did not file a Response to the case.