I was just served with court papers – what do I do now?
Take a DEEP breath. Do it again. Find a quiet place, sit down, and read through the papers once to look for the date and time of any court hearing or deadline to file an Answer or responsive pleading. Then read through all the paperwork slowly and try to understand the gist of the legal language. Write down questions you have. Don’t feel stupid if you’re unable to comprehend everything. Lawyers went to school for many years and use their own language.
I got served with divorce papers – what do they mean?
If your spouse filed for divorce, then the process server (person who handed you the papers) most likely handed you the following separate court pleadings:
- Petition for Dissolution of Marriage
- Summons (tells you that you have 30 days to file an Answer or other responsive pleadings)
- Temporary Domestic Order (this is not the same thing as a domestic violence restraining order)
Sometimes additional pleadings are served with the initial petition such as a Motion for Temporary Orders (seeking to set up a temporary child custody and visitation schedule and/or to allocate income and expenses while the case is pending). Sometimes discovery requests (Interrogatories and Requests for Production) get served with the petition.
The initial paperwork means the case has just started. It does not mean you are actually divorced. The Petition is a list of general things your spouse is asking the judge to award him / her. The Summons starts the clock for you to file an Answer and tell the judge what you want in general.
Temporary Domestic Orders
A Temporary Domestic Order is put into place so that neither spouse will start selling items, run away with the kids, etc. In a nutshell, these orders are instructions from the court that help direct each spouse on how to act in regards to issues surrounding the divorce.
Are the dates and deadlines on the papers I was served with important to follow?
Yes they are and you should schedule an appointment with an attorney as soon as possible. The deadlines are taken seriously. If you don’t file an Answer or responsive pleading within 30 days of being served, the court can enter a default judgment against you, giving your spouse what s/he wants. Waiting to the last minute to hire an attorney may leave you without a lawyer willing to represent you. If you can’t afford to hire a lawyer to represent you, at least consult with one and get advice on how to fill out “pro se” papers for you to Answer the petition and to explain the general process.
I got served with a Restraining Order – what do I do now?
Technically called a “Temporary Order for Protection Against Domestic Abuse and Order to Appear”, most people simply call it a Domestic Violence (DV) Restraining Order or an Order of Protection. This is a request by someone who alleges s/he is a victim of domestic abuse or violence committed by you. The Temporary Order for Protection is issued based on the allegations in the application for restraining order, which is only one side of the story. Judges usually err on the side of safety and issue the order. Once you are served, do NOT call, text, email or try to talk to the person. Do not attempt to communicate with the person in any way, including having friends or family act on your behalf.
Be sure to attend the hearing. The date, time and location of the hearing is in the Order to Appear. You will have the opportunity to tell your side of the story at the hearing. Do NOT fail to show up for the hearing, even if the other side says she change her mind and will “drop” the case. This may be a trick. If you show up in court and the other side doesn’t, the judge will either dismiss the case or reschedule the hearing. Either way, you need to know what’s going on and have the opportunity to defend yourself.