3 Steps To Take When Served Divorce Papers
Getting served divorce papers can be devastating. Even if you want a divorce and/or you were expecting it, getting served divorce papers is still incredibly stressful. Both, your emotions and your thoughts may be racing at the moment, and that can be very overwhelming.
This article will help you move forward, understand the paperwork you were served, and explain your next options. So, if you’ve been served divorce papers, focus on these next three steps.
What To Do When Served Divorce Papers
STEP #1: Validate Your Emotions
Whatever you’re currently feeling (whether you’re anxious; angry; sad; relieved; etc…) is completely valid. There’s no such thing as a “right” or a “wrong” way to feel about your divorce. In fact, you’re probably experiencing a number of emotions, and those emotions may even conflict with one another. It’s okay. However you feel about your divorce, is how you feel about your divorce. The point of step number one is just to validate your emotions. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions you’re feeling. Avoid adding additional judgment regarding how you think you should or shouldn’t feel. Obviously, that’s easier said than done. But, the less time you spend fighting your emotions and berating yourself, the more time you can spend taking care of yourself.
STEP #2: Review Divorce Papers
Before you look at the divorce papers, it’s helpful to have a little background information, and to know that what you’re seeing is most likely the standard documentation for every divorce.
In Minnesota, when a spouse wants a divorce, s/he has to file for divorce. The filing process requires the spouse to provide certain documents to the court and to the other party. Therefore, much of the documents you’re seeing are typical for all divorce cases in Minnesota. These documents inform you that your spouse wants a divorce, and what your spouse is claiming and asking for in the divorce. Sometimes, these initial documents may be collectively referred to as, the Pleadings.
In the pleadings, you’ll see the words, Petitioner and Respondent. The spouse who initiated the divorce is called, the Petitioner. The other spouse is known as, the Respondent. The petitioner and the respondent are the “parties” in a divorce case.
What are Divorce Pleadings?
When you’re served divorce papers, you should receive at least two documents. These two documents are called, the Summons, and the Petition.
What is the Summons in a Divorce?
The Summons is a legal document that states the rights of each spouse during the divorce process. For example, during the divorce process, neither spouse can harass the other spouse, and any current insurance coverage needs to be maintained. In addition, the summons encourages the parties to try alternative dispute resolution methods, in the absence of domestic abuse. The summons also informs you that you have 30 days to respond to your spouse’s petition. Additionally, in a divorce with children, the summons should include a notice about parent education programs in Minnesota.
To determine if you’ll have to attend a parent education program during your divorce, read: Parent Education Program: Unknown Court-Orders to Parents.
What is the Petition in a Divorce?
The Petition is a legal document that is used to request a divorce from the court. In addition, the petition will state the reason for the divorce, list facts about your marriage (such as when and where you were married), and include your spouse’s requests regarding child custody, child support, division of property, spousal maintenance (alimony), etc… The petition gives you an early idea of what your spouse is going to be asking for over the course of your divorce proceeding.
Lastly, it’s often helpful to remember that the petition is simply what your spouse is stating and asking for in your divorce. You don’t have to agree with everything requested in the petition, nor does the court have to necessarily grant any of your spouse’s requests. In fact, just as your spouse did, you also get the opportunity to provide facts about the marriage and make requests regarding the divorce. In Minnesota, this is done by formally and properly responding to your spouse’s petition by drafting and filing a document called, the Answer. To simplify, the Answer is a legal and formal response to the other party’s petition and requests.
For more information and a general outline of the divorce process in Minnesota, read: Divorce in Minnesota.
STEP #3: Decide Your Response
At this stage, you’ll want to decide whether you’re going to get an attorney or not. To help you decide if you need a lawyer for your divorce, read: How to Determine if You Should Hire a Divorce Attorney. You can hire a lawyer to draft paperwork, help you mediate, and/or represent you throughout the entire process. It can be especially important to hire an attorney if your spouse has hired an attorney so you’re not at a disadvantage. Read: 8 Reasons to Hire a Family Law Attorney to learn more about what an attorney can do for you.
If you decide to hire an attorney, it’s important that you look for a lawyer in Minnesota who specializes in family law. Check out our series on Got a Good Lawyer for more tips on how to find the right divorce attorney for you, and also our series on What to Know Before Meeting with a Divorce Attorney.
If you decide not to hire an attorney, you’ll want to start your research, because the judge will expect you to know and follow all of the state laws, court rules, legal procedures, deadlines and court etiquette, just as if you were an attorney yourself.
As mentioned, you have 30 days to respond to your spouse’s petition. A lack of response on your part could lead the court to assume the divorce is uncontested and therefore, grant everything your spouse requested. Therefore, regardless of whether you hire a divorce attorney or not, you’ll want to formally and properly respond to your spouse and the court.
Lastly, unless prohibited by a court order, you can communicate directly with your spouse even after being served with divorce papers. If open communication with the other spouse is possible, it can be a great way to keep divorce costs down.
For more tips on how to keep costs down in your divorce, read: How much does it cost to Divorce in Minnesota.