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What Should I Do After I Have Been Served Divorce Papers?

February 2, 2021

Often, both parties realize the marriage has run its course and receiving divorce papers is expected, but for others, being served divorce papers is surprising. In either case, what happens after being served divorce papers will have an impact on the outcome of the process. Anyone considering a divorce is well advised to become familiar with the necessary steps. Hiring a divorce lawyer is advisable to start the process.

What Information is Contained in the Divorce Papers?

The person filing for the divorce is called the petitioner. The one receiving the divorce papers is known as the respondent. The petitioner files an Original Petition for Divorce with the court and must notify their spouse by serving them the papers either by certified or registered mail or another approved way.

The papers will state the court in which the action was filed, if the petitioner filed on their own or with a lawyer, the grounds for divorce, and a deadline for a response. Additionally, they may contain orders from the court, such as a temporary restraining order, and requests from the petitioner regarding issues of child custody, child support, alimony, and the division of property.

Do I Have to Respond Through a Lawyer?

It is not required to have a divorce lawyer to go through the divorce process; however, having a seasoned lawyer for guidance is generally in a person’s best interest. It is the lawyer’s job to protect their client’s rights during the divorce process and advocate on their behalf.

The divorce papers will state the timeframe that the other spouse has to respond to the petition for divorce. Usually, this is 30 days starting from the date the papers were served. Missing this deadline can have serious consequences and potentially enable the petitioner to be granted all of their requests in the original petition filed with the court. Hiring a divorce lawyer at the outset of the process can make steps simpler.

How Do I Choose a Divorce Lawyer?

It is important to determine divorce goals, and choose a lawyer who can help achieve them. If the goal is settling issues as quickly and amicably as possible, then hiring a divorce lawyer known for their aggressive style will not be the answer.

Some lawyers practice mediation, and this can be helpful in avoiding costly litigation and the uncertainty of a trial. Choosing a divorce lawyer wisely should be a top priority for someone who has been served divorce papers. Get recommendations from friends and family who have successfully navigated a divorce, and interview each lawyer to find the best match.

Some situations require the help of a lawyer, such as the following:

  • Bankruptcy issues
  • Same-sex marriages with children
  • High-asset divorces
  • Large debts
  • Contested cases
  • Settlements involving retirement or pension plans
  • Divorce cases that involve protections from abuse

If financial circumstances make it difficult to hire a divorce lawyer for the entire process, consider hiring one who will only review forms and provide counsel. Some legal clinics give free consultations.

What Documents Should I Prepare?

After being served divorce papers, it is important to start gathering the documents that are necessary in the divorce process, including:

  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage certificate
  • Social Security cards
  • Past tax returns, usually from the last three years
  • Bank statements
  • Credit card statements
  • Statements that prove income, assets, and debts

Find and keep all of these documents in a safe place. Often, once the divorce process has begun, a spouse may try to withhold information.

How can I Protect Myself After I Have Been Served Divorce Papers?

A person going through the divorce process must take steps to protect their assets and communications. Route mail to a new location, such as a post office box, to ensure that strategic communications with legal counsel and the court are not intercepted.

Checking credit can help ascertain if any debt has been accrued without a spouse’s knowledge. Set up a separate bank account if all accounts are owned jointly, and one should have all income directly deposited to the new account. Start saving as much as possible because divorce is expensive, and for most people, it will take some time to financially recover.

If there is any threat of domestic violence during the divorce process, it is vital to obtain protection by filing a Protection From Abuse order (PFA). A PFA can grant temporary custody of any children, help get possession of a car or personal items, and protect from stalking, harassment, and threatening conduct. For those in an emergency situation, a PFA may be granted without having to go through a full court hearing. Anyone afraid for their safety should call a domestic violence hotline and consult with a lawyer.

Huntsville Divorce Lawyers at Hodges Trial Lawyers, P.C. Provide Experienced and Compassionate Counsel to Divorcing Clients

If you have been served divorce papers, a knowledgeable Huntsville divorce lawyer at Hodges Trial Lawyers, P.C. can help you. We have extensive family law experience in all matters of the divorce process, including child support and child custody. Call us at 256-539-3110 or contact us online for an initial consultation. Located in Huntsville and Athens, Alabama, we serve clients throughout North Alabama, Madison County, Limestone County, Marshall County, Jackson County, Morgan County, and Lauderdale County.