So you’re standing there at your front door. The person on the other side just handed you a packet of papers and states the obligatory “Sir, you just got served.” Regardless of whether you were expecting it or not, there is some finality of the situation actually happening at this moment. You close the door and commence reading the boilerplate complaint alleging everything in the book and asking for everything, including the kitchen sink (AND your dog, the very needy and adorable, Genevieve). You may be shocked, hurt, angry, or simply neutral about the entire thing, but regardless, there’s one question going through your mind: What do I do now?
- Do not procrastinate. You have 30 days to respond, so get to it. Begin your preparation, and immediately seek counsel elsewhere. You do not want to wait until day 30 and then run into the courthouse with a handwritten answer trying to file it, nor do you want to have to set aside a default when you realize that your 30 days has lapsed, and now Genevieve is getting belly rubs forever by your ex via a court order.
- Do not file your own answer. If you mess this up, regardless of all of the googling research you’ve done, it is hard for a lawyer to undo your mistakes. I once stumbled across a pro se response which stated the reason that they were denying everything and should receive all of the marital assets was the husbands “mountain o’ lies.” That’s funny to you, maybe. Perhaps you were serious when you wrote that, but I guarantee you that the Judge isn’t going to find that too humorous. I don’t care if he is the King of the Mountain o’ Lies, leave the creativity to those of us who know what we can or cannot get away with.
- Hire an Attorney ASAP. Yes, this goes hand in hand with the previous point. Pro se is frowned upon because pro se clients often have to be handheld by the Judge, which takes up more of the court’s time than necessary. Pro Se clients do not know the legal jargon needed to be used in order for things to go smoothly. Pro se clients often cause a large amount of a mess for their attorney who later has to fix what they didn’t do correctly. This isn’t saying that you’re not smart, but even lawyers don’t represent themselves. Even if you’re not going to do anything pro se, don’t wait until the last minute to ask your newly hired attorney to drop everything and file a response that day. If you come in on day 10, your attorney is able to better know your case and better represent your interests rather than coming in on day 30 and saying, “Yeah, so I got these papers, and nothing is true in them. I want everything, and I need you to file that by, uh, ya know, today or yesterday if that’s possible?”
- Don’t overreact. As I said above, people in divorce proceedings get nasty, but what’s worse? Their lawyers. A lot of lawyers will ask for everything and allege everything and worry about the truth later. This doesn’t mean your spouse said, and it doesn’t mean that the judge will even pay it much attention. Take a deep breath and realize that they might just be using a form without putting forth much effort. If you let it get to you, you’ll get angry or emotional. Angry or Emotional clients spend the most on lawyer’s fees. Allow your lawyer to have your back! We got this, yo!
- If abuse is alleged, get away from the other spouse immediately. Some people use this as a tactical advantage. You do not need to give them any more evidence than necessary. You don’t need to worry about the implications of every small thing you do. Avoid them like the plague and ALWAYS have witnesses around.