What Should You Do If You Are Unexpectedly Served with Divorce Papers?

Getting served divorce papers can be traumatic and emotional, but it’s even worse when you weren’t expecting it. If this has happened to you, do the best you can to contain your feelings and take control of the situation with the necessary actions as soon as you are able to think clearly. Even though you may want to lash out at your spouse, the best  course is to remain as calm as possible, because there are things you must get done fairly quickly to protect your interests.

Any actions you take in anger against your spouse could potentially affect the outcome of the case and your life after the divorce.

Here are some things you will need to consider:

  • The divorce papers will require what’s known as an “answer” — usually within 30 days.  A specific deadline will be given in the documents. You will need to complete the required forms and mail them back to the court and to your spouse or their lawyer if your spouse has retained one.  Some of the possible forms you may need to include (but are not limited to) initially are:
    1. An Answer– This is the main form that allows you to respond to the complaint for divorce. It can be a little bit overwhelming, but the instructions should be carefully followed. If you are retaining a lawyer, your lawyer will fill it out for you along with the necessary accompanying documents so long as you hire your lawyer in time to meet the court deadlines.
    2. Financial Statement – If you (or your spouse) are seeking alimony or child support (and in some cases attorneys’ fees), you will also need to file a “Financial Statement.”  The link provided is to a long form, but there are occasions when the short form will suffice.  As you complete this form, consider all of the financial aspects of living without your spouse. For example, you might decide to create new bank accounts and credit cards that are separate from your spouse if you don’t already have them. If you aren’t employed and don’t have your own income you may want to start taking steps to look for a job to offset expenses or to determine what it might cost to take classes for a desired or updated career.
    3. Domestic Case Information Report – This form helps the court in scheduling your case.
    4. Property Statement – This is the “Joint Statement of Parties Concerning Marital and Non-Marital Property,” which is needed in most divorce cases before your hearing on the property.
    5. Counter-Complaint– This is a Counter-Complaint form that must be filed if you have been served with a Complaint but want different relief or want to tell your own version of the facts  — for instance if you want custody of your child or children.
  • You do not want to miss the deadline for filing your Answer as the court may proceed without your input and make what’s know as a “default judgment.” To say the least, this isn’t in your interest, especially if you disagree with any part of what’s been set forth in the divorce document you received.
  • You will want to carefully read over the document and decide if you feel it is accurate, agreeable, and whether the facts are correct. If you disagree, you will want to make that clear in your Answer and you may want to consider filing a counterclaim. The counterclaim is your chance to tell the court your side of the story and let the judge know what outcomes you’d like to see. You’ll also want to be sure it has been filed in the correct jurisdiction and is filed in accordance with court deadlines. In most cases, the divorce should be filed in the county in which you currently reside.

Although you do have the choice to represent yourself in a divorce case, it is advisable to retain a divorce attorney to protect your interests and to have someone experienced handle all of the complicated aspects of getting a divorce for you. This is particularly true if there are children and/or large sums of money involved including the family home, retirement accounts, and/or a small business. The attorneys at McCabe Russell, PA, have helped hundreds of clients through their divorce and custody matters.  Please contact the firm to make an appointment for a consultation.