HELP! I was just served with divorce papers!

Many people “panic” when they first receive divorce papers. It is understandable. Divorce is often unpleasant. Few people want their marriage to end in a divorce. Divorce is usually a time when there is a great deal of conflict and confusion about what is going to happen, what has happened, and what can be done. In addition, it is often a time when both husband and wife try to “protect” themselves by trying to “gain the upper hand,” “doing what they think is right,” or “making the first move.”

The first two weeks to one month after a divorce filing is made or received is usually a chaotic time for both the husband and the wife (regardless who filed the divorce petition). Neither one knows what is going to happen, and the person who received the divorce petition is often unprepared, did not know there was anything wrong, or the divorce filing came at a particularly high stress time in their marital relationship sometimes after a fight, yelling match, heated arguments, or other problems between the husband and wife “coming to a head.”

In addition, either the husband or the wife may be telling the other what his or her attorney said is “going to happen,”  or that the “court is going to do,” leading to additional fear and anxiety. And, to make matters worse, the petition may ask for what seems to be “outlandish” relief or make “false statements.”

The best reaction is usually to take a deep breath and try to be calm. Good decisions are rarely made when people are at their highest emotional levels.

The first thing to do when served with divorce papers (the “petition”) is to contact a lawyer. Although everyone has a right to represent themselves, it is rarely a “good idea,” and an old saying goes that, “He who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.” Despite what many people think, the law is complex and even in situations in which the dispute seems simple, it is rarely a good idea to not seek a lawyer’s advice.

It is of critical importance that after receiving divorce papers, those papers not be “ignored.” They will not “go away.” Things will not “get better.” By not responding properly to divorce papers, many people have given up valuable rights, or entered into agreements that they could have easily avoided by proper action.

If nothing else is done, after receiving divorce papers, at least an “answer” or “response” should be filed in the court identified on the papers within the time stated.  We have described what an answer is under “Starting the Process.”