A complete stranger has shown up at your place of residence, claimed to
be a process server, and thrust a divorce petition into your (possibly)
confused and startled hands. You’ve been served. Now what?
Step one, don’t panic. It’s natural to panic when served with
legal documents, especially divorce papers, but since it is a divorce
petition, staying calm is your best course of action. Staying calm will
not only help you deal with this situation rationally, but it will also
help you make decisions that will better your position in the process.
For example, your first reaction may be to call your spouse and either
yell or cry and demand an answer. Talking to your spouse should be one
of your last steps, as the last thing you want to do is say something
that could be used against you later or make your situation worse. Instead
of calling your spouse, call a close family member or friend. If you have
children, DO NOT talk to them about it or talk to anyone about it in front
of your children. Judges tend to look more favorably upon those who keep
the children out of the divorce as much as possible.
However, before you call anyone, read the petition at least twice to make
sure you understand everything it entails. If the petition demands that
you provide a lot of information, particularly information that you think
is irrelevant, don’t panic. Many times, form pleadings contain umbrella-like
requests for copies of all records under the sun, but this usually doesn’t
means that you indeed have to produce everything asked for. Your attorney
will work with you in regard to what you will and will not need to produce.
Now that you have done your best to remain calm and collected and you’ve
read your divorce petition enough times to have a clear understanding
of it, it’s time to share your feelings with that close family member
and/or friend. Get everything out here, as you don’t want to unload
your anger and frustration on your spouse, no matter how much they deserve it.
Do remember, though, that your friends and family, while being great folks
to talk, or even vent, to, don’t always give the best advice –
legal or otherwise. They are always on your side, which is great, but
that means their advice can be very biased in your favor. When you talk
to a lawyer, the next step, you are more likely to get a good, third-party
neutral opinion, which will be, of course, educated as to the law, but,
also, probably more in line with how a disinterested Judge would view
If you can, take the next day off from work. This will help you remain
calm and keep a clear head as well as give you a day to do nothing but
plan what to do next. Step one of this plan must include
calling an attorney or two for a consultation. You need to respond to the divorce petition
within the time limit set out in the citation (usually about 20 days)
. Failure to respond, could result in a default judgment for your spouse,
giving them the right to secure all of the relief they have asked for
(within the law), including
- child support terms,
- child custody terms,
- child visitation terms, and
- division of property and possessions.
Most likely, that’s the last thing you want aside from the divorce itself.