You may have known for a while that you were headed for divorce, but being served with divorce papers can still feel like an ugly and painful surprise. Alternatively, it’s possible that you didn’t know that your partner wanted a divorce. In those cases, being served can come as a brutal shock. In either case, it can be hard to know what to do in the moment and in the days to come. Your emotions can cloud your ability to process what’s happening and decide what to do next. Take a look at what you need to know about accepting divorce papers and what comes next.
Start by Taking Time to Breathe
Divorces don’t happen overnight. Receiving divorce papers is an early step in a process that has many steps. It’s important to remember that you don’t need to take any instant action upon receiving the papers. There will be things you have to do and deadlines that you will have to meet, but the first thing you should do, especially if you’re experiencing strong emotions, is to take a few moments (or a few days) to process the information.
You may feel angry, betrayed, or sad, and those are all valid feelings for you to have. However, it’s important not to take any rash actions. Don’t try to contact your spouse right away, and if you’re with your spouse when you receive the papers, don’t shout, threaten, or make a scene. Take a walk or a drive. Give yourself some space and privacy to process your feelings. There will be plenty of time to communicate with your spouse when you’re feeling calm and in control again.
It’s very important not to take any negative actions against your spouse in the heat of the moment. Don’t empty your joint bank account, cancel your spouse’s health insurance or credit cards, pick up your children and leave town with them, or post angry rants on social media. None of this will help you in the long run. It most likely won’t make you feel any better for long, and these types of actions can hurt you later in court.
Read and Understand
Although you don’t have to do anything right away, you should read through the divorce papers as soon as you’re calm enough to do so. Typically, divorce papers include a summons, which explains that you’re being sued for divorce, lets you know what court will be hearing the case, and informs you of your responsibilities, like when you will need to appear in court.
They will also include a complaint, which is the formal pleading that initiates the divorce case. This document will let you know what your spouse is asking for in the divorce.
The summons and complaint may be the only papers, but there are other types of documents that are sometimes also included in the divorce paper. If you and your spouse have children, there may be a temporary custody order that gives your spouse custody of the children until a hearing can be held. A restraining order could also be included with the divorce papers.
You need to read these papers through carefully and make sure that you understand what they’re telling you to do. Make a note of the court dates in your calendar so that you don’t miss them. If your spouse has been granted temporary custody, you’ll have to wait for a hearing to work out visitation or a shared custody arrangement. If there’s a restraining order involved, make sure that you follow it to the letter. If you’re unsure what is meant by any of the language in the divorce documents, it’s a good idea to look it up or get clarification from someone who understands legal language. The better you understand the documents, the better you’ll be able to prepare for the upcoming divorce proceedings.
Get Legal Information
Being served with divorce papers does not mean that you immediately have to run out and hire a lawyer. Divorce can be expensive all on its own, and a lawyer’s fees can greatly increase that expense. While some complex cases do require an attorney’s expertise, many divorce cases are fairly straightforward, and it’s entirely possible to represent yourself, especially if you think that you and your spouse can probably come to amicable agreements on most issues.
However, just because you don’t necessarily need a lawyer doesn’t mean that you don’t need any legal services at all. One way to take control of the divorce proceedings yourself while ensuring that you have the legal resources that you’ll need is to use a legal advocacy group.
With a legal advocacy group like National Family Solutions, you’ll have access to legal professionals who can help you fill out forms correctly, collect the documents that you’ll need to file with the court, and store your documents safely. We can also counsel you about how to proceed and how to handle court appearances and refer you to other professionals that you might need throughout the process. In short, we can give you the tools that you need to effectively represent yourself.
Prepare a Response
The first document that you’ll need to prepare and file is a response to the divorce proceedings. The deadline for the response should be included in your divorce paperwork. The response simply lets the court know that you’ll be participating in the divorce proceedings.
Even if you didn’t want a divorce, it’s important to file a response. Ignoring the divorce papers and failing to participate in the process won’t stop the divorce from taking place. There is no way to prevent your spouse from divorcing you if they want to. Your spouse can continue on their own, and the divorce can be granted without your input. The best way to get an outcome that’s favorable to you is to participate in the divorce process yourself.
The day that you’re served with divorce papers is probably not going to be the best day of your life, but it doesn’t have to be a disaster, either. With time, patience, and the help of a legal advocacy group like National Family Solutions, you can reach a resolution to your divorce cases and begin the process of healing and moving on with your life.