What’s an “Appearance” in a Divorce?

  •   |   Meghan Freed

Blue border with the words What's an Appearance in a Divorce" with the gold Freed Marcroft divorce and family law logo in the lawyer right corner.One of the legal terms you may hear early on in your divorce is “appearance.”  But what is an appearance in a divorce, and what’s its significance?

Read on to learn more.

Court Appearance Definition

An “appearance” is how you let the Court know you are participating in your divorce.

Divorce Court Appearance

The appearance does several significant things.  For example, the appearance:

  • Tells the Court that you are aware of the divorce
  • Advises the Court whether an attorney represents you and, if so, who that attorney is
  • Provides your lawyer’s contact information (or, if you represent yourself, your contact information.  The Court and the other party use that contact information to send court filings and notices of court dates and rulings.

When you file an appearance or your attorney files one on your behalf, you commit to abide by the court’s rules and orders and agree to the Court’s authority over you.

When Do You File an Appearance?

The person who initiates the divorce (or their lawyer) files the appearance along with other documents that initiate the divorce.  (At a minimum, the summons and complaint.) Under the Connecticut Practice Book Section 3.2, defendants must file an Appearance within two days after the Return Date.

Read: What Is the Return Date in a Connecticut Divorce?

Who Files the Appearance?

Both the plaintiff and defendant must file appearances with the Court.  If the defendant doesn’t file an appearance, the Court may order the divorce by “default.”

When a lawyer represents you in your divorce, they file their appearance on your behalf.  For example, if Freed Marcroft represented you, we would file our appearance, letting the Court know that we are your attorney of record.  You need not file your own appearance in addition to your attorney’s, but you may.

In other words, when we say that both the plaintiff and defendant must file appearances with the Court, we mean that both the plaintiff and the defendant- or their attorneys on their behalf- must file appearances.

Read: Does it Matter Who Files for Divorce First?

Read: Are There Advantages to Filing First for Divorce?

Appearance Form

There is an Appearance form (JD-CL-12) to file with the Court Clerk.  In addition, we often file the appearance through the Judicial Branches’ E-Services platform.

What Happens If You Don’t Appear?

If the defendant doesn’t appear in a divorce after being properly served, the Court can still order the spouses divorced.  In other words, ignoring the divorce and failing to appear doesn’t make the divorce go away.  When ruling on the Plaintiff’s Motion for Default, the Court also has the authority to decide all of the issues in the case, including alimony, property division, child support, and custody.  Because the Defendant chose not to participate in the case, the Defendant has no say in deciding any of these issues.

Can You Reopen the Divorce Judgment if You Didn’t Appear and Participate?

Maybe.  Whether you can reopen a divorce post-judgment will largely depend on the timing and why you didn’t file an appearance.  It is easier to open judgments when they are less than four months old than after four months.  For example, suppose the Court ordered the dissolution under four months ago. In that case, the defendant must present “good and compelling” evidence for why they didn’t file an appearance and participate in the divorce.  On the other hand, for older divorces, the defendant likely must prove that the plaintiff committed fraud.

Read: What Is a Motion to Open a Judgment?

Do I Have to Appear in Court for a CT Divorce?

The word “appear” commonly happens in two different contexts in Connecticut divorces.  First is today’s topic — the “appearance” you or your attorney files with the Court to acknowledge that you’re participating in the divorce.  The other type of “appearance” people ask about in the divorce context is whether they must appear physically in court to get divorced.  The short answer is that not everyone needs physically attend court to get divorced.  It depends upon your circumstances.  For example, in mediated and collaborative divorces, you may never appear in a courtroom.

Read: What Is a Non-Adversarial Divorce?

Next Steps

Check out our Divorce Information and Facts for more information about Connecticut divorce and family law. Also, if you have questions or want to learn more, please get in touch with us here.

Freed Marcroft LLC

Freed Marcroft LLC