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You've Just Been Served With Divorce Papers: What's Next?

You might have thought you'd be the one to act first or you might have thought you and your spouse were still working things out. Regardless of how it happened — it happened. Once you are in possession of the divorce paperwork, your first thought might be what to do next. Read on for some guidance about what comes next after being served with divorce papers.

Don't Just Ignore It

You have to take action if you want to protect your rights. If you fail to respond, your spouse can obtain a divorce from you anyway. Unfortunately, if you don't speak up and take part in the divorce, everything your spouse wants will be automatically granted to them.

Read Through the Documents

A divorce petition (complaint, prayer for relief, etc) is not a divorce in and of itself — it's more of a proposal about what the petitioning party wants out of the divorce. To help you break through the legalese, here is what you'll find in most divorce petitions:

Grounds – This is the reason for the divorce. All states now have options to "sue" for no-fault divorce. This means you don't necessarily have to provide the courts with an excuse for asking for a divorce. In states that allow grounds to be stated, this is where you will find out why your spouse wants to divorce. The reason might be adultery, domestic violence, alcoholism, or others.

Basic information – most petitions cover the court (usually the local district court), children of the marriage and if they are minors, the name of your spouses' attorney, and the deadline for responding to the petition.

Orders – These are separate from the divorce but may be included at the time of the serving. Orders compel parties to take certain actions. Some common divorce orders that might be in effect during the separation period include those for child support, spousal support, use of the family home and vehicle, and more.

Speak to an Attorney

The next move should be to find someone to represent you in the divorce. A divorce attorney will protect your property rights, help you gain custody of your children, make your spouse pay certain debts, and more. One of the attorney's first acts is to respond to the divorce with an answer.

Protect Yourself

Your attorney will advise you to take certain actions to protect your financial interests and privacy:

  • Get a private mailbox so that your mail can be assessed only by you.
  • Make a list of assets and debts for your attorney.
  • Open a new bank account under your name only.

Speak to your divorce attorney to learn more.