What Should be My First Steps After I Have Been Served Divorce Papers?

January 27, 2021

Even when a divorce is expected, being served divorce papers can be intimidating. There are a few important steps to take once the official divorce papers have been received. The discussion below outlines the necessary and suggested steps to provide some clarity and direction to the soon-to-be ex-spouse.

Review the Petition

After divorce papers are received, the recipient of the papers is now the respondent. Before the respondent can answer the petition, they must be able to understand what their spouse is asking of the court. Besides the dissolution of the marriage, divorce has deeper legal, financial, and personal implications as well. The petition is likely to include detailed plans for asset division, child custody, and even child support and alimony.

The petition will provide information about the grounds for divorce, which the respondent may dispute in the formal response. The petition may address a number of practical matters as well. For example, it will include information on where the papers were filed. The communication may indicate if the petitioner has retained a lawyer, a helpful revelation for a respondent who is considering speaking to a lawyer as well. The papers should also indicate a deadline for a response.

Consult with a Lawyer

Talking with a lawyer will provide an overview of what to expect as well as an opportunity to discuss some case-specific topics. This can be useful, even if the petition seems straightforward and reasonable.

A consultation may bring up issues that were previously not considered. Having a lawyer is the best way for a respondent to protect their rights, especially if they need to present a case disputing the original petition. A lawyer can also keep track of deadlines, facilitate communications, and build a case to safeguard their client’s interests.

Respond to the Petition

A response to the petition indicates that the respondent intends to be involved in the proceedings. Without this assertion, the divorce will be issued according to the petition by default with the petitioner’s conditions as the basis for the divorce. A response allows a respondent to assert their rights. In most states, the response must be made within 30 days of the petition being served.

The response should lay out any challenge to the conditions presented in the petition, providing a counterclaim that allows the respondent to declare an arrangement that is more acceptable. 

Make Financial Arrangements

In addition to preparing financial records to prove one’s claim to assets, steps should be taken to establish one’s own post-divorce finances. Opening a separate bank account is a good first step toward financial independence. Some courts will freeze marital assets during a divorce, and it will be necessary to have access to funds in the meantime. Respondents should direct their paycheck deposits into this separate account, but the marital accounts should be left alone. Any significant bank withdrawals or attempts to liquidate or hide assets may not be seen favorably by the court.

Prepare for Negotiations

After the initial steps, a respondent should prepare for the court date. Often, the parties in the divorce are able to come to an agreement through mediation, which eliminates the need for a court appearance. The process involves exchanging documents and disclosures how the case proceeds. An uncontested divorce is possible if both spouses agree on the divorce terms. A knowledgeable lawyer will help both parties come to an agreement.

Chester County Divorce Lawyers at Eckell Sparks Help Clients Navigate Their Divorce Papers

Being served divorce papers can cause confusion and anxiety. A helpful Chester County divorce lawyer at Eckell, Sparks, Levy, Auerbach, Monte, Sloane, Matthews & Auslander, P.C. can explain the steps and deadlines involved and give you advice on how to proceed. Contact us online or call us at 610-565-3701 for an initial consultation. Located in Media and West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Delaware County, Chester County, and Montgomery County.