I Was Served with Divorce Papers. What Should I Do Next?
Even when you know they’re coming, being served with divorce papers can be a nerve-wracking experience. Just remember, the moment those papers hit your hands the clock starts ticking for you to take your first steps towards divorce.
So, what do you do after you’ve been served with divorce papers in Florida? Here’s what you need to know.
What’s the First Step to Take After Being Served with Divorce Papers?
The first thing you need to do after being served divorce papers is usually the hardest – don’t panic!
Don’t panic when you read the petition and see that your spouse wants the house, the nicer car, your retirement savings – and everything else. Just about every petition for dissolution of marriage, another term for divorce, includes the petitioning spouse wanting every marital asset.
Why? Because if an asset is not included in the petition, your spouse can’t receive that asset once the divorce is final. Your spouse is going to ask for everything upfront. This is normal, and it is definitely not a reason to panic.
You’ve Read the Petition. Now What?
Everyone handles the early stages of divorce differently. The best approach right now, however, is to calm your emotions so you can make logical decisions about what to do next.
What to Do:
- Reread the petition several times to fully understand the situation.
- Cancel your plans. Take the next day or two to think through your upcoming divorce and the support you’ll need.
- Begin your search for a divorce lawyer who can guide you through the divorce process and advocate on your behalf.
- Do your research to understand the standard divorce process and what to expect.
- Conserve your cash and go easy on the credit card. A divorce can be a large financial undertaking when spouses do not agree on how to split their assets. Assume the worst and save money where you can.
What Not to Do:
- Do not talk to your spouse. Avoid contacting them until you’re clear on the petition and next steps in the divorce process.
- Do not involve your children in any conflict you’re facing. Not only is this best for them, but it’s also the right move if child support and custody will be a factor in the divorce.
- Do not bury your head in the sand. Getting what you want from your divorce requires that you be proactive, find the right divorce lawyer, and respond to the petition on time.
You Have 20 Days from the Time You Receive the Petition to File a Response
It may not seem like much, but 20 days is plenty of time to think through your next steps.
Your most important job right now is to respond to the petition before the 20-day deadline passes. Failing to respond within 20 days can create a series of problems for you – the biggest one being the risk of default.
If you miss the 20-day deadline, you run the risk that a default divorce judgment is ordered against you. In a default divorce, your failure to respond relinquishes your rights to challenge the petition for dissolution of marriage. And, that means your spouse can request that they be given the assets outlined in the petition.
So, the house, the nicer car, your retirement savings – they could all go to your spouse in the blink of an eye.
Needless to say, respond to the petition on time. Being in default can open you up to all kinds of vulnerabilities when settling your divorce with your spouse and the courts.
Divorce is Not a Life Event to Navigate on Your Own. Next, Find a Florida Divorce Lawyer.
During these first 20 days, you’ll need to find a Florida divorce lawyer you can trust and afford. The sooner you hire a lawyer the better. Working with the right lawyer early on in the process gives you both ample time to formulate and submit your response to the petition.
This is especially true if your spouse is already consulting with a divorce attorney and you expect some disagreements as to how to divide your marital assets, share child custody, or any other number of terms of the divorce.
During this Time, Review Your Assets and Liabilities
Your divorce will center around the distribution of your marital assets. So, take the time now to refamiliarize yourself with the details about each of your accounts.
The types of accounts and documentation to review usually include the following.
- Joint bank account statements
- Retirement savings statements
- Insurance policies
- Credit card statements
- Mortgage statements
- Property deed
- Titles to vehicles
- 5 years of past tax returns
- Family business records
- Any other documentation of shared assets
If you can’t find or don’t have any of these documents, start by calling each provider and requesting statements. If you need copies of tax returns, you can contact the IRS and request copies. Or, contact your accountant for past tax returns as well as other joint statements used to file the returns.
It may take some digging but arming yourself with as much documentation as possible will make the divorce process much easier in the end.
Once you have your statements, create a back-up of every document. If your statements are in paper form, scan and file each one electronically. If your statements are electronic, print each one and keep them stored and organized safely in a filing cabinet, preferably one that’s locked.
Documents have a funny way of disappearing during a divorce case so act fast and compile all records now, well-before your 20 days are up.
Additional Ways to Prepare Yourself for the Divorce Process
Learn as Much as You Can About the Divorce Process
Educating yourself about what to expect during divorce is one of the best ways to get through the process unscathed. Rely on your divorce attorney for the education you need by asking lots of questions until you truly understand the process and what’s required of you.
You can read books about navigating a divorce, attend seminars and webinars to hear from other experts – whatever it takes to quickly become a divorce expert and protect yourself and your assets during this time.
Pinch Your Pennies
So much about divorce is about finances. This isn’t the time to take an expensive vacation or shell out money on any unnecessary expenses. Until your divorce is finalized, and you know what it’s going to cost you, make a strict financial plan and stick to it.
Document the Process
The weeks and months you’ll spend going through your divorce will be a whirlwind. It’s easy to forget what was said by your divorce lawyer or your spouse, or what next steps you need to take at any given time.
Keep a notebook and document everything. Include steps taken by you, your lawyer, and your spouse. Jot down new terms, the advice your lawyer provides, and anything else you can’t afford to forget.
From the Time You’re Served with Divorce Papers Until the Divorce is Final, Surround Yourself with a Strong Support System
Going through a divorce is stressful for everyone. Having the support of friends and family you can talk with and rely on will make the process easier and much less painful.
The same is true of a strong divorce lawyer. Your lawyer will help you make the right decisions for you and your family so receive the assets you deserve.
Contact us today for a free family law case evaluation. We’ll listen to your case and explain your rights. When you’re ready to work with an experienced Florida family law and divorce lawyer, please fill out the form on our Contact Us page or give us a call at (954) 880-1302.