Help! I’ve Been Served With Divorce Papers!

While things may not have been all that great at home, the last thing you expected was to receive divorce papers.  But the process server found you and suddenly, you’re in possession of a Petition and Summons for Divorce.  What now?

You have a number of things to be concerned about right now:

  • Responding to the lawsuit — you only have 30 days. If you don’t respond, you could lose all of your rights!
  • Telling your family and friends that your marriage is over. Who would have thought it would come to this?
  • Deciding whether to get legal help or whether to try to be your own attorney.
  • Figuring out how the finances are going to work now that you’re split. Do you need two homes? Will you have to pay any child or spousal support?
  • Worrying about telling the kids about the separation. Then worrying about how you’re going to see the kids when all is said and done.

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Common Divorce Lawsuit Pitfalls

A great attorney will help you avoid all of the divorce lawsuit landmines that happen when you go through family court.  Here are just a few things you’ll want to discuss with your lawyer:

1.) When is Your Response Due?

You have 30 days from the date you were served to file what is called the Response. If you do not file this document, your wife can default you. This means, she can proceed with the divorce without you.  If she asked for sole custody of the children in the Petition, she can get it — without any input from you! If she asked for spousal support, she can get it, without you being able to have an input into the amount.  I’ve even had cases where the man did not file a Response, and his wife took his separate property that was willed to him by his parents.  If you don’t file a Response, you don’t have a say in your own case.

2.) Get a Grip on Your Life and Your Emotions!

Your wife is no longer your support team. You need a new group that is 100 percent on your side.

Remember, all to often, at this point in a divorce, anger and conflict lead to charges of domestic abuse.  And men end up with the short end of the stick on these charges.

It is a good idea to think about getting a counselor.  This is especially true if there are children who are dealing with emotions of their own.

What is not a good idea is to use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain.  If you’ve ever used drugs — even recreationally — your spouse can request a drug test if custody is an issue.  You don’t want to lose your kids because you were self-medicating.

Don’t think that your wife’s use of drugs gives you license to use them yourself.  You want to come out the white knight in this situation.

3.) Start thinking about getting a lawyer.

While some people don’t have the funds to finance an attorney, not having a lawyer may be one of the most expensive decisions you will ever make.  In family law, there are so many financial implications to the final outcome — from the way property is divided to how much support is ordered, to how the tax credits are applied — that you definitely want to have an expert walk you through the financial minefield in court.

Generally speaking, the cost of an attorney is more than offset by the amount he will be able to save you over the long run.

Beyond finances though, this is your family you’re talking about. If you want to be actively involved in your kids’ lives and not just a Disneyland Dad, you owe it to your children to have an attorney on your side fighting for them.

4. Don’t Bash Your Ex on Facebook!

This is court after all and anything you say — especially on Social Media — can, and will, be used against you.

Keep in mind that the texts you send to your ex can be admitted into court.  The things you post on social media accounts can be copied and admitted.  Anything you put in writing is proof positive.  So, think twice before you type.

5. Give Your Kids Space to Be Kids

Don’t put your kids in the middle of your divorce.  This is hard enough on them already.  They’re probably thinking it’s their fault.  Assure them it’s not. This is an issue between their mommy and you, and they are not to blame.  Whatever happens in the future, you will always love them and be there for them.

Don’t talk badly about their mom in front of them.  Not only does this upset them, but it can be used against you in court.

Don’t use them as your therapist.  If you need someone to talk to, find another adult or a professional counselor.

If they are struggling with their emotions, consider getting them into counseling.  This is probably the most difficult time in their childhood, and having someone who is not involved who they can talk to can make a world of difference.

6. Mind the Bank

You’re going to be setting up two households now.  There’s going to be less money for “extras” all around.  So, it’s not a good time to be splurging on big purchases.

Once you’re served with the Petition and Summons, some Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders go into effect.  You cannot make any major purchases or sales of property without a court order except for what is necessary for the ordinary functioning of life.  If you violate this order, you can be held in contempt of court and sanctions can be levied against you.

7. Domestic Violence

If there has been any domestic violence in the family, anticipate that it will get worse.  Do everything you can to avoid situations where things might become violent. If you do anticipate that your wife might charge you with domestic violence, put in place measures to prevent a Restraining Order from sticking.  These might include only seeing her in public places or with a mediator.  It may mean exchanging the children for visitation at the Police Station for instance (a common occurrence).

There are any number of problems with picking up a Restraining Order Charge.  You must turn in all guns and are barred from having employment that requires a weapon such as those in the military or police fields.  There are also implications for child custody.  If you have a Restraining Order against you, it is extremely difficult to secure primary custody of your children, even if you are the preferred parent, because there is a presumption in the law that if you have an RO, you are not a fit parent.

We are Here to Help!

It may feel like your world has ended when you get served with divorce papers. But, you will get through this, just as you have gotten through every other hard thing in your life.  Think positive and seek good advice.

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