The period immediately after receiving divorce papers can be confusing and frustrating. This is especially true if you weren't anticipating such a move from your spouse. However, you need to act fast to safeguard your interests. Here are three things you should do immediately:
Scrutinize the Papers
After you have calmed down, take the time to read the divorce papers; they contain important information that you need to know and confirm. Some of the information to expect on these papers includes the following:
- The court where your partner has filed the action
- The deadline for your response
- Whether your partner has retained an attorney
- The alleged grounds for the divorce
- Requests from your partner, such as temporary child custody and spousal support
Reading these papers may help you to spot mistakes or mischief from your partner. For example, it's important to know whether he or she has included your separate property in your community property. You will have the opportunity to discuss these things later, but the earlier you digest the information, the better you will be prepared.
Consult and Hire a Lawyer
You don't need a lawyer to divorce, but it certainly makes sense to have one. You need the attorney to review the papers and inform you of your options and rights. This is especially true if your partner has hired a lawyer, too, because facing an attorney, with your limited legal knowledge and experience, would be an uneven match. In fact, if you have never gone through a similar process, you may not even know how to respond to the petition.
Respond to the Petition
The third thing is to respond to the petition. The petition will indicate the period within which you must file your response; it is usually 30 days. Failure to respond may deny you the right to challenge the issues raised by your spouse, such as the need for temporary spousal support. It may be costly to challenge the default ruling entered by the court when you don't respond in time.
In your answer, clarify whether agree or disagree with the petition. This is not a simple yes or no response; it should be fairly detailed. For example, if your partner is asking for temporary child support, and you disagree with the request, support your decline with legally sound reasons.
These are just the immediate steps, but a divorce involves many more processes. Even if you read the petition and reply to it without an attorney's involvement, you should still consider one to handle the subsequent processes. Contact a firm like Finocchio & English for more advice.