Even when you’re expecting it, being served divorce papers can bring up a multitude of emotions. Although you may want to spend time processing what a divorce means to you, it’s important to act immediately to ensure you achieve the outcomes you want.
Step 1: Read The Documents Carefully
Before you do anything else, read through the papers you’ve been served. Divorce papers are made up of two documents.
The first is the petition for dissolution of marriage. Here you’ll find the fine details about your case, including information about your marriage, the names of any minor children, and the reason for your divorce. The document also specifies what outcomes your spouse is requesting, such as demands for child custody, assets, and spousal support.
The second document is the summons, which states that you’re being sued with divorce and grants the courts the power to hear and determine your case. It’s on this form that you’ll find your case number and the contact details for your spouse’s attorney.
Most importantly, make sure you check for any automatic temporary restraining orders (ATROs) on the back of the document. These restrain you from engaging in specific behaviors during the dissolution of your marriage across four main categories:
- Children — You cannot take your minor children outside California or apply for a passport for your children unless your spouse agrees in writing or you receive a court order.
- Property — There are restrictions as to what you can do with real and personal property, including if the property belongs to you alone.
- Insurance coverage — You cannot make any changes to your insurance plans, and you’ll need to continue paying premiums.
- Non-probate transfers — Existing non-probate transfers must remain unchanged, and you are restrained from creating a new non-probate transfer.
Although it may feel overwhelming, it’s critical that you read the divorce papers through from start to finish to ensure you know exactly what your partner is demanding. Don’t worry if some parts are difficult to understand — legal documents are designed to be more understandable to lawyers than to the general public.
Step 2: Check The Calendar Date That The Response Is Due
It’s crucial that you respond to the divorce papers by the deadline. In California, a response is typically due 30 days after you are served the papers. Failure to respond in time may lead to a default divorce, which means you give up your rights to deny your spouse’s demands or to make any demands of your own.
Step 3: Consult With A Family Law Attorney
You should refrain from deciding on what course of action you’ll take until you’ve spoken to a family law attorney. Aim to meet with your attorney no later than a week after you receive the divorce papers to give yourself plenty of time to meet the response deadline.
It’s crucial to retain legal counsel whatever your situation, as an attorney will be able to clarify your rights and advocate for you if circumstances change in the future. Besides, you’ll be at a significant disadvantage if your spouse has legal representation, but you don’t. Furthermore, having a divorce attorney on your side will help remove much of the stress of going through the divorce proceedings.
Your attorney will ensure you meet deadlines, become a mediator, and help you receive the best possible outcomes. This is particularly important if you have children and need to navigate custody, visitation, and parenting decisions.
Work with your attorney to respond to the divorce papers. You’ll need to provide a response to each numbered statement in the petition separately by saying you want to either accept, deny or request further information for each demand.
In addition, you’ll need to craft a supporting statement to explain your reasoning for any of the demands you deny. Finally, if you have any demands yourself, you must submit these as a counterclaim.
Your attorney will advise you on what documentation you need to support your case. Start gathering this now. It may include tax returns, bank and credit card statements, and other paperwork that demonstrates your income, debt, assets, and financial situation as a whole.
Receiving Support From A Divorce Attorney
The tight deadline to respond to divorce papers means it’s crucial to take immediate action. Working with an experienced attorney will ensure you understand what the divorce papers mean, file the appropriate paperwork, and start the process to protect your assets. Contact Bruce A. Mandel for a FREE consultation to discuss the divorce papers you have been served. Plus, follow us on Facebook to receive more useful information about divorce and family law.