Unexpectedly being served with a divorce petition is difficult. You are faced with the loss of a relationship that you may not have been expecting. Or maybe you thought it was possible but you didn’t expect it to actually happen.
You may be worried about your children. Or your property. You have so many thoughts and emotions that you may not know what to do next or how to deal with the situation.
That is what this article is about. Divorce is a stressful and emotional time – even if the spouses agree on the need to end their relationship. With a little planning, a little preparation, and a good foundation of support you will be ready to handle your divorce as best you can.
1. Understand That Time Is of the Essence
Once you are served with a petition for divorce, you have a relatively short time period in which you can file an answer in the case – it can be as short as 20 days. And there is a lot to do!
If you were served with a temporary restraining order (TRO), then it likely has a hearing for preliminary injunction set in an even shorter time frame.
You will need to find an attorney. This may require several consultations with different attorneys before you find a lawyer that you are comfortable working with during your divorce.
You then need to work with your lawyer to decide how you should respond to the petition and develop an overall strategy for how you will proceed with your divorce.
You also need time to gather relevant documents and information for your attorney and the court. Again, all of this must occur within a very short time frame so do not delay in getting started.
2. Understand Your Options On How to Respond
Not every divorce petition requires a response – or legal counsel. But many do.
If you do not respond then the court may enter judgment against you and award your spouse all that he or she seeks in the petition for divorce. In some cases that may be fine, such as when spouses have a planned divorce where they agreed on each and every issue prior to filing.
But if you are reading this article then that likely does not apply to you.
You should work with your attorney to understand your options to respond. Your strategy may require filing a general denial, filing a counter petition for divorce, or challenging the court’s jurisdiction and venue to hear the matter. You may want to allege fault grounds even though your spouse claimed no fault grounds for the divorce.
You may need to seek temporary orders on how you and your spouse will handle matters such as possession of property, access to bank accounts, paying bills, custody of your children, child support, and spousal maintenance.
In some cases, you may have been served with a TRO that has a hearing for preliminary injunction set in a very short time frame. This requires immediate attention in addition to filing your response to the divorce petition as the court will establish your rights and set limits on those rights for the duration of the divorce proceeding.
There are pros and cons to different strategies in responding to a petition for divorce and which is best for your case can only be determined after consulting with your lawyer.
3. Establish Pillars of Support
It is important to understand that your attorney is just that – your attorney.
Your attorney is not your friend. Your attorney is not a family member. Your attorney is not a psychiatrist. Your attorney is not a CPA or financial adviser.
You need to find other individuals to fill those roles. Many divorces are an emotional roller coaster. You will need a friend or family member that you can lean on when you have a rough day.
You may even need to seek professional help to deal with the emotional aspects of your divorce.
You may need a CPA or financial adviser to help you make smart money decisions about property divisions or the impact of distributions from retirement accounts.
That being said – be careful what you discuss and with whom. You shouldn’t discuss the details of your divorce case with anyone without your attorney’s consent.
Your conversations with third parties could be subject to discovery and letting out a little frustration to a friend will sound a lot different when that friend recounts the conversation in court under questioning from your spouse’s lawyer.
4. Make a Plan
Life will go on. Your divorce case will proceed and come to an end one way or another. You need a plan to address key issues both during your divorce and after.
You need to have a plan for how you will handle your financial obligations during the divorce and after. How will you pay your attorney? How will you pay your bills? Your car payment? What if you need to get an apartment?
What about child care? How will you take care of your kids when you have possession of them? There will no longer be a second parent to watch them while you run a quick errand.
Will you be receiving child support to augment your income? Will you be paying child support that will reduce your income? How does that affect your financial health?
Where will you live? Maybe you get to stay in the primary residence during the divorce – or maybe you don’t. Maybe you are awarded the primary residence in the property division – but maybe you aren’t. So make a plan for where you will live both during and after your divorce.
Discuss these plans with your attorney – particularly where children are involved – to make sure it will not cause any difficulty in pursuing your legal strategy. View our Divorce Checklist here.
5. Begin Implementing Your Divorce Strategy
Remember one of the things I mentioned in item 1 above – work with your attorney to develop a strategy? Now is the time to start implementing it.
You have a strategy for how you will proceed with your divorce case. You have a plan for how you will take care of yourself and your children. You have support in place to help you through the inevitable rough days that will come along during the divorce proceedings. You are now as ready as you will ever be.