If you’ve been served with divorce papers, you may be feeling upset or even overwhelmed. However, understanding some of the initial steps that you’ll need to take may help you clear your thoughts and plan for what’s ahead of you. In this article, we’ll explain what you should do in the days and weeks after you’ve been notified of divorce proceedings.
What Are “Divorce Papers,” Anyway?
Most adults understand the general idea of being “served with divorce papers,” but few people know exactly what those papers entail or what they mean from a legal standpoint. So what are divorce papers, exactly?
Divorce papers in North Carolina actually consist of two items: a summons and a complaint. The summons is a paper that lets the defendant (the person being served) know that they are being sued, and it also asserts the court’s power to hear and determine the case in question. In addition, in North Carolina, the summons states that you must respond to the complaint with your written answer within 30 days by serving the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s attorney and filing the answer with the Clerk of Court.
The complaint is the pleading that the other spouse filed to initiate the divorce process. (In many other states, this item is called a “petition for dissolution of marriage.”) This document includes most of the important information about the divorce filing, such as:
- The names and the county and state of residence of both spouses
- The date and place they were married
- The names of any children of the marriage who are under 18
- An acknowledgement that the petitioner or their spouse have lived in the state or county for a certain amount of time prior to the filing of the complaint (in North Carolina, either the plaintiff or defendant must have resided in the state for at least six months prior to the divorce action.)The claims that the plaintiff is asserting, which may include:
- Absolute divorce (the parties must have been separated for more than one year);
- Custody or visitation;
- Equitable distribution (which is the same as property division);
- Alimony/spousal support.
Note that in North Carolina, you must be separated for at least a year before you can file for divorce. However, you can still file a lawsuit for the other claims at the time of separation, or in some cases, before you separate. A lot of people use the term “divorce papers,” even if they have only been sued for custody, support, property division or alimony.
Like most legal documents, divorce papers are not necessarily designed to be user-friendly. Even though all of the critical information is there, it’s easy to miss things if you’re not an attorney, and you may find it difficult to get a full understanding of your legal situation just by reading over these papers. This is one reason why it’s important to contact an experienced family law attorney as soon as you’re served divorce papers.
What to Do If You’ve Been Served
Being served with divorce papers can create a rollercoaster of emotions — especially if the filing is unexpected. However, it’s important to keep a clear head during this time, as the actions you take in the aftermath of a divorce filing can have a major impact on your legal case.
While you may feel tempted to contact your spouse after being notified of a divorce filing, you need to resist this urge at all costs. Instead, seek support from family and friends as you collect your thoughts and let the initial impact settle. Lashing out at your spouse or trying to make arrangements off the record can negatively impact your legal case and will only make things more difficult for you in the long run.
Likewise, talking badly about your spouse in front of children of the marriage is never a good idea, and you should never put your children in the middle of the dispute between you and your spouse. Such actions could affect your children negatively and impact your relationship with them. It will also cause the court to look unfavorably on you during court proceedings, and the problems this can create for your legal case will almost certainly make you regret it later.
Once you feel that you’ve collected your thoughts and come to terms with your initial feelings about the divorce, it’s time to take some practical steps to address your legal situation. At this time, you should:
- Make note of the deadlines. If you’ve been served with divorce papers, the summons should tell you how many days you have to respond by filing your own papers with the court. In North Carolina, you will have 30 days to respond, and you can also petition for an extension that will grant you an additional 30 days.
- Contact an experienced family law attorney right away. You may be tempted to represent yourself during a divorce in order to save money, and this might make sense if you have very little in the way of assets at stake in the divorce. However, representing yourself in cases where important assets and financial consequences are on the line — including property, inheritances, child support, and/or alimony — can prove extremely costly if you make a mistake.In addition, a contentious divorce that involves various types of assets can quickly create an overwhelming workload for a person who tries to represent themselves. This can take up large amounts of your time and leave you feeling overextended, which can both add to your stress and make it even more likely that you’ll make a mistake. Working with an attorney who has experience handling divorce cases is the best way to make sure that your case proceeds smoothly and that you meet all deadlines and filing requirements.
- Start getting organized. The court will ask for a lot of information from you during the divorce process, so it’s a good idea to begin compiling and organizing your records as soon as possible after you receive notice of divorce proceedings. In addition, this is a good time to undertake financial preparations, such as eliminating joint financial accounts and moving your finances to personal accounts.
Your attorney will be your most important resource and ally during this preparation process, as they can tell you what information you’ll need and help you to gather it. Although an exhaustive list of documents you’ll need to give to your attorney would be very long, examples of some of important documentation generally includes:
- Any documents that can establish your income and financial status, such as bank statements, retirement account statements, tax returns, credit card statements, loan documents, and any other paperwork that can show the court your assets and debts
- Birth certificates, medical records and bills, and insurance cards for any children of the marriage
- School and daycare records for any children of the marriage as well as any bills that demonstrate the costs associated with education or daycare
- Any documentation that demonstrates your past and ongoing involvement in your children’s lives
Although it’s understandable to experience a wide range of emotions when you’re served with divorce papers, remember that this is a critical time in your legal case, so it’s important not to panic or act rashly. Instead, you need to contact an experienced family law attorney who can guide you through the upcoming process with a legal strategy that protects your rights and interests along with your children.
Contact Myers Law Firm If You’ve Been Served with Divorce Papers
At Myers Law Firm, we understand that the end of a marriage is one of the most difficult events that a person can experience, so we approach every family law case with empathy and understanding to look for common ground. While we pride ourselves on our negotiation skills and will work to reach a viable compromise with the other side, we are also prepared to stand up in court and fight for your rights aggressively whenever the situation calls for it.
The attorneys at Myers Law Firm have experience handling all of the major family law issues that surround the end of a marriage, including alimony, child custody, child support, property division, and divorce. We’re here if you need help. To get in touch with us, call our offices at 888-376-2889 or fill out our online contact form today.