I’ve Been Served With Divorce Papers! Now What do I do?

Published April 19, 2012 | By

If you have been served with divorce papers and would like to schedule an initial consultation with one of the Morgan Law Firm attorneys please call our office at (512) 212-7878. Please make the staff member you speak to aware that you were served with papers and when that happened. If your papers included a notice of a hearing, also mention that and give the date of the hearing.  Due to the approaching court deadlines after service we recommend you call rather than use the email contact form.

If you have been served with divorce papers there are two things you need to do right away:

#1 – Remain Calm

Often it is a shock to be served with divorce papers, so it is completely understandable if you feel like things are spinning out of control.  However, it is very important that you keep your wits about you so that you can think clearly and make good decisions.  Know that many people have stood in your shoes before (you probably know quite a few) and they all managed to somehow get through it and you will too.

The biggest obstacle to avoiding a nightmare divorce is to let your emotions run away with you.  This keeps from making good decisions that are in your best interest.  Do whatever it takes to remain calm and understand that although it might seem like things couldn’t possibly get worse, at some point in your life this will just be a past event and you will move on with your life.

#2 – Act Promptly

One of the primary legal effects of being served with papers is that it gives you notice and creates certain court deadlines that you must respond to. Here is exactly what you should do after being served with a Citation and Petition for Divorce.

Read the Papers from Beginning to End

This sounds obvious but it is actually quite common for clients to come to the initial consultation without having read the papers through even once.  As unpleasant as it may be it is absolutely necessary that you read the document so you can understand what is being alleged and make notes on what you want to ask your attorney about.  The document will contain a lot of legalese that might not make much sense but your attorney will be able to explain exactly what is meant by the various provisions.

Contact a Qualified Divorce Attorney and Schedule an Initial Consultation as Soon as Possible

Since you have been served with papers you do not have any time to waste.  The time period for you respond to the lawsuit begins to approach on the very first day you were served.  If the papers include a Notice of Hearing you could have a court appearance that is a matter of days away.

The biggest mistake people make in this situation is to procrastinate.  This is a situation that requires immediate action so that your rights can be protected.  If you fail to appear in court for a temporary orders hearing after you have been served with notice your spouse will likely get everything he or she asks for. If you fail to file an answer by the deadline you are likely to have a default judgment taken against you on a final basis.  All of this can be avoided by acting promptly and hiring a good family law attorney who will look out for your interests.

Common Questions After Being Served with Divorce Papers

I have never been violent towards my spouse, why did she get a Restraining Order against me?

In Texas Temporary Restraining Orders are very common and the process of obtaining one is laid out very specifically in the Family Code.  No proof of any wrong-doing is required in order to obtain one. Either party that asks for a restraining order will get it.  Judges typically require that a restraining order be mutual against both parties, not just one. The language in the statute defines several actions that are prohibited during the case, such as destroying records, selling property, hiding the children, canceling insurance, etc.  If your divorce papers include a Restraining Order you should definitely review it carefully and ask your attorney about any of the language you do not understand. Violation of a restraining order can lead to being held in contempt of court.

I just want to get divorced, why do we have to do a hearing on Temporary Orders?

In Texas a motion for temporary orders is very common in divorce cases and generally the hearing is held early in the case.  If a party files a motion for temporary orders and requests a hearing they are entitled to it.  Either by agreement or hearing, temporary orders are entered that typically last as long as the divorce case ends.  Common issues include: custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, use of property including vehicles and residences, payment of bills and, depending on the case, any number of other issues.

Nowhere in the papers I was served with does it explain what my spouse wants.

The purpose of the divorce petition is simply to get the case started.  Depending on the specific allegations there may be additional details provided as to your spouse’s contentions, but the actual terms they are seeking will come out later in the settlement negotiations.

Does my spouse have a big advantage because he/she filed first?

In my opinion there is no significant advantage to being the Petitioner instead of the Respondent. The only difference I might consider an advantage is that the Texas Rules of Evidence provide that at trial the Petitioner gets to put on evidence first, and the Respondent (although they are entitled to do cross-examinations) does not get to put on their case until the Petitioner finishes putting on  their evidence.  Since the vast majority of cases settle this typically is a complete non-issue.

As mentioned above, if you would like to schedule an initial consultation with one of the Morgan Law Firm attorneys please call our office at (512) 212-7878.

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Scott Morgan is Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is has practiced family law since 1994 and is the founder of the Morgan Law Firm which is dedicated exclusively to representing divorce and family law clients in the Houston and Austin areas.

Posted in Attorney, Divorce

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