I’ve Been Served With Divorce Papers—What Now?
So, you’ve been served with divorce papers. Whether or not this came as a surprise to you, you are probably wondering what to do next. While we understand that this can be a stressful and overwhelming process, here are a few tips on the first steps to take after being served and the process that follows.
First, Read the Papers
It is vital that your first step after being served is to read and digest everything the divorce papers state. These papers may contain a plethora of information and allegations—some of which may be boilerplate and some of which may be specific to your circumstances, such as the court in the action is filed, the deadline in which a response must be provided, and whether or not the spouse has filed the paperwork individually or if they retained an attorney. Make sure to take note of all important dates, as you may suffer legal consequences if those deadlines are missed or ignored.
Second, Seek Out Legal Counsel
It is very important to immediately seek out legal counsel and retain an attorney after you are served with divorce papers. Even if you were expecting the filing and are also interested in getting a divorce, a divorce attorney will review the documents from a professional standpoint and help inform you of your legal rights and options. This is especially important if the divorce becomes contested, as you will have an attorney who can advocate for you and your rights. Further, an attorney will help you to ensure that your obligations to your spouse and the Court are met, including filing appropriate responsive documents, filling out and exchanging the necessary paperwork and financial disclosures, and helping you keep documents and dates organized and up to date.
Third, File a Response to the Divorce Complaint
The divorce papers will give you a date by which you need to respond, so be sure to calendar that response deadline and communicate with your counsel to ensure that an appropriate response is timely filed. It is important to note that if you do not respond, you will not be preventing the divorce from happening; instead, you will only be indicating to the court that you do not want to be involved with the proceedings. Nevertheless, those proceedings will go forward regardless of your participation, and without your participation, the Court may rule against you on issues such as division of assets or custody.
Fourth, Begin Planning for your Children
If you and your spouse have children together, it is never too early to start thinking about how the divorce will affect them and what sort of parenting plan would be best for your family both during the divorce and after it is finalized. A parenting plan is an order of the Court that establishes how you and your spouse will continue to provide and care for your children after you separate. This process is used when it is anticipated that a judge will need to make a custody decision during the divorce, and your attorney will help guide you in creating and proposing a parenting plan that fits your circumstances.
Fifth, Seek Mediation
One of the most efficient and least contentious ways to resolve your divorce and move forward is to schedule and attend mediation. Mediation is a process in which a neutral third party, a mediator, will meet with you, your spouse, and both your respective counsel and discuss the settlement proposals and compromises between you and your spouse to resolve the issues in the case, including asset division, custody, child support, and alimony. Mediations are often highly successful, resulting in the full settlement of a divorce case. This process is less cost intensive than a trial before the Court, and can ensure that your divorce is finalized on terms that you agree upon.
Sixth, Settle or Go to Court
After all the prior steps are completed, some divorces are ready to be finalized by settlement, while others will need to consider proceeding to trial. If you and your spouse are unable to resolve your divorce by way of a settlement agreement at mediation or otherwise, your case will end up in front of a judge and/or jury. If this is the case with your situation, your attorney will help negotiate through the disagreements and conflicts before the court and guide you in preparing for that process.
Divorces can be taxing and procedurally complicated, and we here at Buckhead Family Law understand that. If you have been served with divorce papers and are about to embark on this difficult journey, we are here to not only assist you through it, but to also help you and your family reach a point where you’re able to move your life forward.