Divorce: Jurisdiction and Service

Once a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is filed, the responding party must be made a party to the proceedings in order for the Court to obtain jurisdiction over that party. Jurisdiction is the authority of the Court to hear and render decisions in a pending case. If the responding party, or an attorney on his or her behalf, does not voluntarily file an appearance in the case, the usual practice is for the petitioning party to have a Summons issued by the Clerk of the Court where the divorce is pending and to place the Petition for Dissolution and Summons for service with the sheriff’s department in the county where the responding party resides or with a private process server. If service of process is accomplished on an out-of-state resident, additional requirements must be met.

When the responding party receives valid personal service, the Court obtains both: 1) the authority to adjudicate the status of matters, for instance: dissolving the marriage, adjudicating allocation of parental responsibilities (parenting time, parental decision-making authority), and assigning interests to property assets located in Illinois (characterized as in rem jurisdiction), as well as, 2) the authority to enter orders regarding the conduct of the parties, for instance: the payment of child support or maintenance, and the allocation of attorney fees and marital debt (characterized as in personam jurisdiction).

If a spouse cannot be located after diligent inquiry, rendering personal service unattainable, upon motion to the Court, service by publication of a notice of the proceedings in the local newspaper where the case is pending may offer an alternative means of service, although, service by such means only confers in rem jurisdiction, such that matters requiring in personam jurisdiction must be reserved until the responding party is either personally served or agrees to file an appearance with the Court.

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