What to Do If You Get Served with Divorce Papers

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You’ve heard the doorbell ring. You go to the front door and open it, only to be met by a stranger who is handing you something. He says, “Are you (insert your name)?” You have to think a minute about the answer, because you are facing a stranger and have no idea what he wants. He leaves so fast you think you must be imagining this. But in your hand, you are holding something.

You never thought you’d be reading these words: ACTION FOR A DIVORCE. A million things are going through your head. What is your first step?

Breathe. Breathe. And after you sit down, breathe again. There is a process to follow and here are your most important steps…

Do Not Hide

Now, your first inclination might be to put your head in the sand. Hiding is a normal and expected response to the fears that you are facing as a result of those divorce papers. To you, those divorce papers signal the unknown, a future that could be radically different from the present in ways that you cannot foresee. In order to overcome these natural feelings, you should set about finding a good team to represent and support you, in addition to your attorney who will play an important role (see step below). You may need a divorce coach who can educate and guide you, or a therapist who can help you maintain your mental health. Or both. I know this sounds daunting, but I assure you that the time and money you spend now to engage professional assistance will reap great rewards for you personally and professionally at the end of your divorce by keeping you grounded.

Hiding is not only detrimental to your physical and emotional well-being; it also may hurt you legally. Normally, you only have 20 days to respond to the divorce papers and a timely response will indicate your seriousness about protecting your rights.

Get a Good Attorney

You will need to find a good attorney. A divorce coach can help you with vetted referrals, or your divorced friend may have some ideas. I suggest getting three referrals for matrimonial attorneys and visiting all of them. I also recommend you only visit referrals who are willing to give you 30 minutes of their time without charging you. What you are looking for is someone who is smart, compassionate and experienced. You will need someone who is willing to listen to all of your concerns, even the ones that are not traditionally legal concerns. But, you also want to find an attorney who can protect your interests and fight for your rights.

Get Prepared

You need to get prepared for a legal action which means a few things, depending upon your circumstances:

  1. If you have children, you need to provide them with the love and support that they will so desperately need at this time. For this, I highly suggest that you visit with a family or child therapist, who can help you with challenges such as how to tell the children, how to help them manage through the transition and how to support them so that their suffering is minimized as much as possible. Most importantly, recognize your children will feel their loyalties pulled between you and your spouse, their other parent. This can be very distressing to them and affects their mental health and their ability to handle the other responsibilities they have and their relationships with others in their lives. It is imperative that you understand this pull of loyalties, you identify the behaviors or actions on your part that exacerbate them, and work hard to avoid them. Your divorce coach or divorce lawyer can provide you with referrals to experienced family or child therapists.
  2. When you are alone at home, spend time going through your family’s financial records. Make copies of all deeds, leases, or other important documents. Go to your online bank and credit card accounts and download three (3) years of your back statements to a zip drive. While you are doing this, you should secure the online accounts by changing the passwords. If you are locked out of any of those accounts or cannot find the important documents, make a list of the accounts and documents that you know exist to provide to your attorney.
  3. Start dreaming about your future as a single person. Yes, I know it is hard, but it is a habit that you need to develop and the sooner you start, the faster and easier it will be to realize your dreams. Marriage is great. It is an institution in our society because of its rewards. But, singleness is no less great. What have you held yourself back from doing (or what has your spouse held you back from doing) that you have always wanted in your life? In particular, is there a work or educational pursuit that you have put on the back burner? Now is the time to start dreaming about those things. The dreams will provide you with a guiding light when you need it.

Divorce will always be stressful, but there are resources to help you and your family – legally and emotionally.

If you have been served with divorce papers or you are considering a divorce, contact us for a free consultation.

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