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I’ve just been Served with Divorce Papers. Now What?

It can be a shock, whether you were expecting to receive divorce papers or not. So many questions, heading down an unfamiliar road. How do I protect myself? What does this mean? What do I do next? We’ve got you!

Step 1: Move Quickly

The clock starts ticking once you’ve been served and there are deadlines to hit. Your attorney may request an extension on your behalf if it’s needed. It’s important to know that serving starts the legal process.

Step 2: Choose the Right Legal Team

There are many different types of experienced divorce attorneys. There are Family law attorneys that specialize in high conflict, high net worth, military or collaborative for those that seeking an amicable divorce. Ask your friends, family and colleagues for recommendations. See our video “Choosing the Right Legal Team”.

Step 3: Interview

You might be feeling the pressure to move quickly, but finding a lawyer that is a good fit is worth the time. Interview at least 3 attorneys. Many people rush in and find themselves more worried about dealing with their own attorneys then their soon to be ex. Protect yourself by asking the right screening questions during the interview. What is their response time? Who is their typical client? How do they bill their clients? Will I be working directly with you or your team?

Step 4: Read

It’s important that you understand what you’re agreeing to which will ultimately help you determine your next steps. Read each of the divorce papers carefully.

Step 5: Write

Preparing a list of questions from the divorce papers. To get the most out of your time with your attorney, it’s important to organize your list of questions.

Step 6: Educate Yourself

Learn the terminology and the documents.

  • The Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage: Explains the grounds on which your spouse is filing for divorce, along with any requests for alimony, child custody, child support, or particular assets.
  • The Summons: Is a brief, formal notification that your spouse is “summoning” you to court for a divorce. It gives you the details of what you need to do next and when you’re expected to appear in court. In states like California, an automatic temporary restraining orders go into effect once you’ve been served.

Step 7: Respond

On average you’ll have 30 days from the date you are served to send a response to the courts which is called the “counter-petition”. This is your answer to your soon to be ex’s requests as well as your opportunity to make your own requests. If no response is sent, then the court will grant a “default judgement” giving them everything they’ve requested.

Step 8: Collect

You will be responsible for providing all of your financial records like tax returns, paystubs, bank account and credit card balances, as well as retirement accounts, investments asset ownership and deeds. Do not attempt to hide assets as it’s illegal and will only hurt your case. Collecting this information now will help give your attorney’s more time to build your case.

Step 9: Open a New Bank Account

It is wise to open a new bank account in your name only to reroute your paychecks to. Do not move money from the shared accounts into your personal account as this is considered marital assets and most states ban the transfer into different accounts during their divorce.

Step 10: Update Your Mailing Address

If you are still living together, it’s time to get a PO Box. Many documents will be mailed to your home from the courts and your lawyer. There could be information that could be used against you later if they happen to stumble upon it.

Step 11: How Do You Want to Divorce?

Check in with your Ex about how you want to separate.

  • Mediation– offers suggestions and helps keep things civil but doesn’t make decisions for you.
  • Arbitration– will help you and your spouse negotiate and will make a legally binding decision in cases where you disagree.
  • Court– Is usually the most contentious and expensive route. The judge will make the legally binding decision in cases where you disagree.

Step 12: Stay Focused

Your attorney is not your therapist. Many people will get triggered or feel they need to justify points to their attorney and find themselves going down rabbit holes that don’t necessarily serve them legally. Stay with your list of questions and keep an eye on the clock to make sure you’ve addressed the most pressing issues.

Step 13: Organize

Take some time after each of your meetings to organize. If you have handwritten notes from your meeting with your attorney, then make sure they get filed. If you have deadlines, add them to your calendar. If you just received an email, file it in the right folder. Keeping organized is crucial.

  • Paper Forms / Notes– Buy a binder. While the paper documents might start rolling in slow, you may quickly find yourself with legal documents scattered throughout your house. By the end of the process you will be glad you organized early.
  • Emails– Every email platform from Google, Outlook, Comcast to Yahoo have the ability to create a folder to store emails. As you receive important emails relevant to your divorce, simply tag it to be added to the folder for quick access later.
  • Electronic Documents/PDFs– Create a folder on your computer to keep your electronic documents for quick reference. Ideally this could be on the cloud so you can access them from your mobile device or multiple computers.
  • Calendar– with so many pending deadlines and milestones it’s critical to keep your calendar up to date along with notifications to help remind you.

It’s time to move quickly and find an attorney that you can connect with. Robert Frost said it best “The Best Way Out Is Always Through”. Good Luck!


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