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What do I do if I get served?

by | Nov 8, 2023 | Divorce, Separation Agreements |

Some people who get divorced know it’s coming. Perhaps the parties have talked about divorcing for weeks if not months, and might even take the initial steps of getting lawyers and determining what kind of divorce they want to proceed with together. However, in some cases, the divorce comes as a surprise. One moment, you’re married, and the next you’re getting served with a divorce petition and wondering what to do from there.

The first thing you should do is contact a lawyer so you can have an advocate to walk you through the divorce process. It is also important to get a lawyer early on so you can make sure your rights as a parent, as well as your assets are protected. You can begin this process by searching for a lawyer online, reviewing attorney websites, asking friends and family members for a referral for a lawyer they like, maybe talk to someone whose advice you trust, and begin to narrow down which lawyer might be a good fit for you. Once you have done these steps, it is time to schedule an initial consultation with a lawyer.

Keep in mind that not every law office is the same. At the Law Office of Lisa A. Vance, for example, we will do a lot of the work people might think of as part of an initial consultation over the phone, so when you do come in for an initial consultation, you can be further down the road toward the type of divorce that works best for your situation.

If you’re being served, it’s likely that you’ll be en route to a litigated divorce, but it’s possible that an alternative dispute resolution method is possible. The more you can let your lawyer know about your situation at the outset, the better your outcome might be.

What I find most helpful in an initial meeting is when the client comes as prepared as possible with as many documents as they can provide. Since a Final Decree of Divorce is a legal agreement that affects finances, anything showing you and your spouse’s assets and debts is incredibly helpful. Additionally, please include both your assets and debts that belong to you as a couple, as well as you individually.

Another point to consider is if you have children, and which issues impacting your children are important for your lawyer to understand. For example, do your children have medical issues like food allergies, an IEP plan at school, or any disabilities or hardships? If so, your lawyer needs to understand these concerns so they can be incorporated in your Final Decree of Divorce.

If there are concerns like this, you should provide any supporting documents to your lawyer as well. For example, your lawyer will want to review medical records and the IEP plan for your child’s school. Even if you think you and your spouse are on the same page about what your children need, you want to make sure your lawyer knows specifically what you believe your children need at the outset so she can be sure those needs are documented.

Also, if you or your children have experienced any abuse in the relationship, any documentation of that abuse is important for your lawyer to review. For example, you will need to provide police reports and protective orders to your lawyer. This information is important to let your lawyer know about on your first meeting, because that will most certainly impact your divorce. Along the same lines, if there’s documented communication that’s threatening or mean, but you’re not sure if it’s abuse, show that communication to your lawyer.

If you have worked with a lawyer previously, bring your previous case file to your initial consultation with your new lawyer.  This can occur if you need a modification to the current custody plan you have in place and have worked with another attorney previously.

For most people getting divorced, it’s a new and potentially frightening experience. No one gets married planning to get divorced. Once you meet with a lawyer, you will be able to have a plan in place and a better idea of what might happen. The more paperwork you can bring to your lawyer, the more complete your file will be from the very onset of your case.

Also, importantly, preparing for a meeting with a lawyer can help you with a very common feeling around divorce: Feeling like you’re helpless and unable to do anything to make the situation better. With a lawyer at your side and a plan in place, you’ll feel better equipped to handle the uncertainty that a divorce can bring.