Receiving divorce papers can be a distressing experience, and it signifies the initiation of the legal process of ending your marriage. It’s essential not to ignore these documents, as there are crucial deadlines and requirements within them that must be addressed promptly to ensure a smooth divorce process. Below, we outline seven key steps you need to take after being served divorce papers to safeguard your rights and interests.
What to Do After Receiving Divorce Papers
Thoroughly Review the Papers
Divorce papers are legal documents with significant implications. It’s crucial to carefully examine them to understand your obligations and the specifics of your situation. Pay close attention to:
- The summons, which outlines your court appearance details and instructions.
- Deadlines for your response.
- Any particular provisions, such as account freezes.
Since divorce papers may vary by jurisdiction, a thorough review will provide you with essential insights into the legal requirements and expectations relevant to your case.
Retain a Skilled Divorce Attorney
Seeking legal representation is imperative as soon as you’ve reviewed the divorce papers. Unless your divorce is exceedingly uncomplicated, involving no shared property, children, or alimony claims, a divorce attorney is vital to ensure a fair outcome. Your attorney will offer assistance in various aspects of your divorce, including:
- Explaining your rights and responsibilities during the divorce process.
- Navigating the legal system and scheduling court appearances.
- Advocating for your interests during property division, child custody, and spousal support negotiations.
- Accelerating the finalization of the divorce.
Additionally, your attorney will guide you through the process of responding to the initial summons, ensuring compliance with court requirements.
Provide Your Response
You are responsible for submitting an “Answer” to the court in response to the summons you’ve received. This document serves as your counter-petition, addressing your spouse’s requests and outlining your own preferences. Typically, you’ll have a specific period, often around 30 days from the date of service, to file your response. Adhering to this deadline is crucial, as missing it can result in a default judgment in favor of your spouse. Your attorney will assist in preparing and submitting your answer promptly.
Gather Necessary Documentation
After retaining legal representation and responding to the summons, your attorney will work with you to collect essential documentation to support your case. These documents may include:
- Financial records like pay stubs and tax returns.
- Evidence of asset ownership, such as property deeds and vehicle titles.
- Account information for bank, investment, and retirement accounts.
These documents are critical for establishing the nature and extent of shared assets, and they empower your attorney to advocate effectively on your behalf. Accuracy and completeness in providing these documents are essential.
Safeguard Your Assets
If your divorce papers permit, consider opening a personal bank account in your name. Although you cannot transfer marital assets into this account, you can arrange for your paychecks to be deposited there. Marital assets are typically defined as funds acquired during the marriage, and transferring them to different accounts during a divorce is often prohibited. However, you can establish a separate account now to manage your future finances and avoid mingling these funds with marital assets.
Update Your Mailing Address
To protect your privacy and maintain confidentiality regarding legal documents, consider changing your mailing address for court-related matters. If you and your spouse still reside in the same location, have court and attorney correspondence sent to a post office box. This measure helps prevent any unintended interference and safeguards your communications with your attorney.
Decide on Your Divorce Process
Your final step involves discussing the preferred method for your divorce with your spouse. You may not necessarily need to go through the court system if you both can agree on key aspects of your divorce. Options such as mediation or arbitration offer alternatives to traditional courtroom proceedings. In mediation, an unbiased mediator assists you and your spouse in reaching agreements, while in arbitration, the arbitrator helps negotiate and makes legally binding decisions if disagreements persist.
Whether you choose mediation, arbitration, or litigation in court, this decision marks the official start of your divorce process, ensuring you’ve covered all essential bases.
Receiving divorce papers can be a jarring experience, even if the end of your marriage was anticipated. However, it’s crucial to act swiftly and decisively to meet important deadlines and protect your interests. Enlisting the services of an experienced divorce attorney is a vital first step in navigating the complexities of divorce proceedings. By following these seven essential steps, you can ensure that your divorce process proceeds smoothly, safeguarding your rights and securing a fair outcome.