What Should I Do If I Am Served With Divorce Papers?
Court rules allow several ways for one spouse to serve the other spouse with divorce papers. First, the spouse may mail the paperwork, however this does not count as valid service unless it is done through certified mail, receipt restricted to the recipient spouse and the recipient signs for it. Second, the spouse may have the paperwork personally served on the other spouse by a professional service agent or law enforcement agent. Third, the spouse may serve the other spouse's attorney, provided that attorney has entered a formal "appearance" in the divorce case. Finally, if the spouse is not able to locate the other spouse or the other spouse is avoiding service, the court may order alternate service by posting or publication in a legal newspaper.
If you have been served with a "Complaint for Divorce", you are the defendant in the case and the other spouse is the plaintiff. You have twenty-one (21) days from the date you were served to file an "Answer" to the complaint with the court and mail a copy to the plaintiff spouse or plaintiff's attorney if he or she is represented by counsel. The answer must answer each numbered paragraph in the complaint by admitting the allegation contained in the paragraph, denying the allegation or stating one neither admits nor denies an allegation. If one wants to file a counter-complaint for divorce, that must be filed at the same time as the answer to the complaint or the right to file a counter-complaint for divorce may be lost.
If, in addition to the complaint for divorce, you have also been served with an "Ex-Parte Order" or orders, then you must file an "Objection" to the ex parte order within fourteen (14) days of the date you received this document. If you fail to file an objection to the ex parte order or orders, then that order will become a binding order of the court unless or until the court issues a subsequent order modifying it. When you file the objection, you must also schedule a hearing date on the objection with the court, then mail a copy of the objection and a notice of the hearing to the plaintiff or the plaintiff's attorney. You should also file what is called a "Proof of Service" with the court which is a sworn statement verifying the date you mailed the objection and notice, the documents you mailed, to whom and what address.
These are the very basic procedural actions that one must take when served with divorce papers in order to avoid the court entering a "Default Judgment" against him or her. Entry of a default judgment means that the court will enter an order based upon the plaintiff's allegations without your input, often without your presence in court and sometimes without your knowledge. If one is served with a complaint for divorce, separate maintenance or annulment, the best thing to do is consult with a family law or divorce attorney. Divorce cases are very fact specific, so variations in the facts of one person's divorce case verses another's can cause significant differences in the outcomes. If you have questions regarding these issues, please do not hesitate to schedule a consultation by contacting my assistant, Cathy, at (248) 608-4123 or through the contact form on the web site.