One experience that no one wants to have happen is being served with divorce papers. This is especially true when it comes as a surprise. Through all the emotions and thoughts that you go through, the overwhelming question that you’ll ask yourself is, “What now?”
Everyone’s divorce is different, and everyone will experience it differently. How you handle yourself early can be vital to how successful your divorce is, as well as minimizing the emotional and mental strain that it will place on you.
When you receive your divorce paperwork it will either come in the mail if allowed in your state, or a process server will give it to you. It makes no sense to refuse to accept the documents, generally, as the packet will contain multiple documents and will generally be made up of a complaint and a court summons.
The complaint is what was filed by your spouse to initiate the divorce. It will explain the type of divorce that is being filed, a fault-based divorce (if allowed in your state) or a “no fault.” Every state allows divorce actions without determining whose fault the end of the marriage should be placed. The court summons is a document from the court explaining that you are a party in this case and what is expected of you and may include dates and times you must attend court.
Included on the summons is an automatic restraining order to stop any kind of financial drain from either party, there will be a restriction on removing children from the state, and so on. These restraining orders means that you or your spouse cannot spend, remove, transfer, or attempt to hide money or assets. Although you and your spouse can continue to pay your bills and required expenses, you are prevented from obtaining loans, or moving money from accounts without the court's permission. If you are attempting to spend money to hire an attorney or obtain new housing, that is generally going to be allowed. However, if your spouse tries to purchase a new sports car, that is not going to be allowed under most circumstances unless he or she can show a good reason to the court.
Read the paperwork carefully once you have been served with divorce papers. A motion may be included, which sets a hearing date in the case that you must prepare for and attend. The motion may request the court enter orders on issues such as who will remain in the home, who has custody of the children, visitation, spousal support, or child support.
Once you are given the divorce paperwork you will have to respond, or answer the divorce. The time to respond is dictated by state law, and this can put a time constraint on your plans. You will have to determine whether you want to hire an attorney or represent yourself in the case. If you decide you would like to hire an attorney it is important to start researching and meeting with attorneys immediately, do not delay. Many offices offer a free consultation with an attorney to help you determine if they are the right fit for you, as well as to figure out what your legal rights are and to plan your next steps. The earlier you meet with and hire an attorney, it will give them more time to work with you and draft your answer to the divorce and begin strategizing.
Once you or your attorney have answered the divorce paperwork, the next step is to start gathering the required documentation for the divorce. In Massachusetts, these are called mandatory self-disclosures. This is done to ensure that when the division of the marital estate takes place, that either the judge or the parties have adequate information to make an informed decision or negotiations. These documents include past year’s tax returns, recent pay stubs, health insurance information, retirement accounts, investments, bank statements from all of your accounts solely or jointly, a signed financial statement under the penalty of perjury, health insurance information, and much more. This is all to be done shortly after service of the summons to the defendant or “respondent.” Failing to provide this information could result in your spouse moving for a motion to compel, and if you still fail to turn over the documents you may be in contempt which could result in a magnitude of punishments that is up to judge’s discretion.
You will need to understand that a divorce will seem to go by very quickly at first and start to slow as it goes by. Court appearances, motions, required meetings, and conferences will be required of you up until a trial is heard, or you can come to an agreement with your spouse. The process can take very little time with the cooperation of the parties, or it can last years. For that reason, it is necessary to understand both the short and long term goals that you want in the divorce. If you hire an attorney they can help you with this including representing you in court and at negotiations when needed and creating your answers. You may choose to be very aggressive in a divorce or you may want to look at more amicable solutions to speed up the process. When you talk with your lawyer be sure to bring up what approach you want. A good divorce attorney will be able to approach your divorce with either option or even something in between the two.
A divorce is a lot more than just two people separating from one another. It impacts your financial, emotional, and mental well-being. You must consider these factors before making quick decisions. If you hire a divorce lawyer you can ensure that you are balancing your needs with what the court requires and creates a buffer to help limit the impact court has on your emotional and mental health. A well-trained divorce lawyer will ensure that you are receiving a fair deal, and help keep you in compliance with the court.