Served with Divorce Papers

Served with Divorce Papers - Signing documents
Divorce papers sometimes ask for a signature

Served with Divorce Papers in Minnesota

Have you been served with divorce papers?  One document says the Court gives you notice that a divorce proceeding has been started.  A second shows a laundry list of facts your spouse are claiming as true, even if you strongly disagree.  The papers also show everything your spouse is asking the Court to do.  This may include divorcing you, getting your children, and getting your property.

Carefully read over the paperwork.  You have a deadline to formally respond.  In Minnesota, it’s thirty (30) days. In order to comply with the law and to fully protect your interests, your responsive documents also need to be served and filed using proper procedure and formatting.

Importantly, in Minnesota you generally can’t stop a divorce.  If one spouse wants one, he or she is going to get it.  You don’t benefit by not responding.  Here are some steps to take:

STEP #1: Take a breath. Your anxiety is normal

The first step after getting served divorce papers is to validate your feelings. You may be angry, anxious, depressed, relieved, scared, cautious, etc… In fact, you’re probably experiencing several emotions all at once. But, it’s okay; because, there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to feel about your divorce.

Allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling, without adding additional judgment regarding how you think you should or shouldn’t feel. Obviously, this is much easier said than done. However, the less time you spend fighting your emotions and berating yourself, the more time you have to spend taking care of yourself.

STEP #2: Review the Papers

The second step after getting served divorce papers is to review the paperwork. Your response is time-sensitive. It’s important that you read these documents as soon as you can.

In Minnesota, when a spouse wants a divorce, he or she has to serve and file for divorce. The filing process requires the spouse to provide certain documents to the court. Service provides documents to the other party as required by law.

Importantly, the documents you’re seeing are typical and normal for divorce cases in Minnesota. These documents inform you that your spouse wants a divorce. They also state what your spouse is claiming and asking for in the divorce. Sometimes, these documents are collectively referred to as, the Pleadings.

What are Divorce Pleadings?

In divorce 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.

When you’re served divorce papers, you should receive at least two documents. These two legal documents are called, the Summons, and the Petition. See the service statute for more information.

The Summons states the rights of each spouse during the divorce process. For example, during the divorce process, neither spouse can harass the other spouse. Any current insurance coverage needs to be maintained.

In addition, the Summons encourages the parties to try alternative dispute resolution methods. The Summons also informs you that you have 30 days to respond to your spouse’s Petition. In a divorce with children, the Summons should include a notice about parent education programs in Minnesota.

The Petition 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, 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 asking for from the divorce.

However, you don’t have to agree with anything requested in the Petition. The Court doesn’t have to necessarily grant any of your spouse’s requests. 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 document that allows you to formally respond to the other party’s Petition and his or her requests.

STEP #3: Decide Your Response

The third step after getting served divorce papers is deciding what to do.  There are two major decisions: (1) How to respond and (2) Whether to hire an attorney.

how to respond: what you’re asking for

As mentioned, you have 30 days to respond to your spouse’s petition with an answer. If you don’t respond,  the court may assume the divorce is uncontested. In that case, the Court can grant everything your spouse requested. Therefore, regardless of whether you hire a divorce attorney or not, you should formally and properly respond to your spouse and the court.  This includes your requests for the Court.  These often differ from your spouse’s requests.

Lastly, unless prohibited by a court order, you can communicate directly with your spouse even after being served divorce papers. If open communication with the other spouse is possible, it can be a great way to keep divorce costs down.

representing Yourself

You don’t have to hire an attorney.  You are legally allowed to represent yourself in a divorce in Minnesota. The less issues and assets at stake, the more this may make sense.

For example, if there are no children involved, not a lot of assets or debt, and you feel like you and your spouse can be agreeable, representing yourself may work fine.  You can keep your costs relatively low, make the process go more quickly, and hopefully easily move on with your life.

However, often times there’s a lot more at stake.  For example, if you have children the idea of them not living with you or you not being able to make decisions for them can be a scary proposition. 

In addition, there often is significant property, and possibly debt accumulated during the marriage.  You want to protect your rights to the property and not to take on more than your fair share of any marital debt.

When you represent yourself, the Court will expect you to follow all deadlines and procedures.

hire a divorce lawyer

On the other hand, retaining an divorce lawyer often makes more sense.  You should especially consider a divorce attorney to help you when:

  • There are more issues at stake, including more assets and debts
  • The case has more issues, including custody and spousal maintenance 
  • If your spouse has an attorney 

Reasonably, why would a spouse know all of his or her rights?  Spouses are not typically lawyers.  Therefore, the more issues at stake, the more likely an unrepresented spouse will not even know to request what they’re entitled to. 

Additionally, judges don’t necessarily care what either spouse thinks is fair or what should happen.  They care what the law tells them how to treat divorce issues.  A lawyer will tell you how the law addresses all of the issues in your divorce.

If your spouse is working with an attorney and you are not, you will be handicapped.  You’ll be at a disadvantage throughout the divorce process.  This includes Court proceedings, mediation, and negotiations.  Mediators and Judges are not allowed to take sides to level the playing field.  It is far more likely you will not walk away with a fair shake.

Lastly, if you decide to retain an attorney, do so sooner rather than later.  This gives time for the lawyer to provide immediate advice.  It also gives the lawyer plenty of time to work with you to draft, file, and serve your responses.

For other divorce or family law questions, please consult the list to the left or the FAQ page.  If you’re interested in retaining an attorney to help you, please feel free to contact my office for a consultation using the contact information on the left or the contact form on the Majeski Law home page.  For Court rules, please click here.