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You’ve Been Served Divorce Papers: Now What?

After you've been served divorce papers, your first instinct may be to panic. However, it's important to remain calm and take the necessary steps to ensure your needs are met during this difficult time.

Remember, you are not alone. There are resources available to support you throughout the divorce process, so reach out for help as needed. With the right mindset and support system, you will be able to move forward with confidence after being served divorce papers.

What does it mean to be served?

Being served divorce papers is a scary and confusing experience. There are several ways you could be served with divorce papers.

Your spouse's chosen third party

There are several people your spouse may ask to serve you with divorce papers. It is almost never recommended (or even permitted) for your spouse to personally serve them to you. They may ask a friend, family member, sheriff, another neutral third party like a co-worker, or a process server. Learn more about options for serving here.

A process server, who is essentially a professional courier, may deliver them to you in person. A process server will likely require you to sign a proof of service form acknowledging that you received the documents. You may also be required to attest to a court that you received the documents. These requirements vary based on the divorce laws in each state.

Certified mail or publication

The papers may be sent to you via certified mail or another means of delivery. In some divorce cases, a notification may be published in a local newspaper or online.

If you have been served with divorce papers, it's important to take swift action. You often have less than a month to respond. There are a number of legal aspects to consider, including the grounds for divorce, asset and property division, and child custody arrangements. Navigating your divorce proceedings may require help from a lawyer or divorce advisor.

One of the most important things to remember when dealing with a divorce is to put yourself first. This means maintaining your physical and mental health as well as seeking support from family and friends during this time.

How do I respond if I'm served?

When served with divorce papers, your first instinct may be to panic and feel overwhelmed. As the respondent, however, it is important to remain calm and consider all options before responding.

Choosing not to respond

One option is to simply ignore the papers and not respond. This may appeal to you because you want to avoid conflict and expense. Notably, this approach often comes with serious consequences for your divorce case, including being ruled in default and potentially losing custody of minor children or property rights.

Filing an official response

Alternatively, you may decide to respond by filing an official response with the court. This gives you an opportunity to present your case and explain why you believe the divorce should not go forward or should be handled in a different manner.

Be aware that as the respondent, there are filing fees you'll need to pay. If you cannot afford these fees, you can apply for a full or partial fee waiver. While courts need the money to operate, they will not prevent you from participating in the process because you cannot afford the filing fees.

Next steps after being served divorce papers

Now that you have received divorce papers, your next step should be to gather as much information as possible about your situation. This may include financial statements and other important documents as well as any relevant legal paperwork.

Property rights

The process of property division varies depending on whether you live in a community property state or an equitable distribution state. In community property states, such as California, spouses are generally considered to have equal ownership of marital assets. Therefore, your marital property will probably need to be divided equally between you and your ex during the divorce proceedings.

In equitable distribution states – which happen to be the majority of states in the U.S. – the division of marital property is more complex. Courts take into account factors including each spouse's contributions to the marriage, their current needs and earning capacities, and any relevant prenuptial or postnuptial agreements when determining how to divide shared assets and debts.

In an equitable distribution state, your share of assets may not be 50/50. However, your marital property division must be deemed fair and equitable based on the circumstances of your marriage.

Fault vs. no-fault divorce

It’s important to understand whether your divorce is classified as a fault or no-fault divorce. A fault divorce is typically granted when one partner has committed adultery, domestic violence, or another type of wrongdoing. This type of divorce can have significant implications for issues like spousal support/alimony payments and child support/child custody arrangements.

All states allow for no-fault divorce. In no-fault divorce, the parties simply state that their marriage is irretrievably broken or that they have irreconcilable differences. The divorce is not the direct “fault” of either spouse.

Does your state require mediation?

Some states require divorcing couples to participate in mediation before they head to court. Why? Mediation can help alleviate the court system’s burden. They’re hoping that you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse can resolve all issues related to property division, spousal support, parenting time, child custody, and child support with a mediator. If so, the judge can simply review your mediated settlement agreement for fairness and sign your final divorce decree.

Even if you cannot agree on all issues in mediation, the effort you make with a mediator can reduce the number of issues the court must address when processing your divorce. In turn, this reduces the amount of time it takes to get your final judgment. It may even save you some money.

Getting help with your divorce

Some couples are amicable enough to complete their divorce on their own, without the involvement of a judge or even a mediator. They agree on how to divide their property and real estate, share child custody, and similar issues.

Other couples are not so amicable, and that’s okay. If you’re facing divorce and need guidance on how to proceed, it is perfectly acceptable (and normal) to seek help from an experienced family law attorney who can guide you through this difficult time. If you’re daunted by the high price of mainstream divorce lawyers, don't worry. Hello Divorce offers cost-effective alternatives to hiring a lawyer, including flat-fee virtual meetings with an attorney. In addition to this service, we provide a host of online divorce plans that give you the help you need (forms, checklists, and personal guidance) to complete your divorce and stay on track.

Taking care of yourself after being served with divorce papers

Divorce can be a shock to the system. It’s easy to get caught up in the emotions and stress that come with it. As such, it’s essential that you take good care of yourself both now and in the future.

Self-care

It’s a buzzword you may have heard already, but self-care really matters right now. This might include taking regular breaks from your daily routine, engaging in relaxing activities like nature walks or massage, or simply making sure you’re getting enough sleep and eating well.

Divorce grief

Another important piece of self-care: Give yourself time to grieve. Even if you were unhappy in your marriage, breaking up with someone you once loved can be difficult and painful. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up during this process — sadness, anger, confusion, fear, resentment, disappointment. Try not to judge these feelings or bottle them up inside. If necessary, seek professional help from a therapist or counselor who can help you navigate your emotions in a healthy way.

At Hello Divorce, we’re well-versed in the dissolution of marriage process, and we understand that it’s probably quite new for you. That’s why we offer a line of customizable divorce plans, from a simple DIY plan to a deluxe cooperative plan in which we help both spouses complete the process with five hours of divorce mediation.

As you begin your journey, please take advantage of our many free resources on this site, including our downloadable Divorce Process Flowchart and many checklists for divorce and life planning.