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Brooklyn Family Law, Blog

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October 20, 2014
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I Just Got Served with Divorce Papers, What Do I Do?

divorce papes, divorce plan, served, divorce processDo. Not. Panic. As an experienced Family Law Attorney in Brooklyn, NY I know that is not easy when the person you expected to spend your life with changes their mind, but you need to hold it together so that you can make wise divorce decisions. Now, of all times, foolish decisions are not an option. Do nothing rash. Do not pack and move out the door unless your life, literally, depends on it. If you move out and leave your children, you may risk your chance of getting custody, so tread very, very carefully in any action you take. Do not take a chainsaw and cut all of your furniture in half to “equally” divide it. Do not take a crowbar to your spouse’s vehicle. That would be a bad divorce plan. Though you certainly need a divorce plan, and you need it now, a wise and well thought out divorce plan is always the better approach.

If you have just gotten hit between the eyes with an announcement that your marriage is over. You need to divorce plan immediately. You need to know your rights, your obligations, the law of divorce as it affects you. You need to learn from someone experienced in divorce and capable of explaining it to you in a way you understand. To make a plan, you should know about and understand the divorce process that you are about to go through. You will survive it and you will come out the other side of all of it.

So, you have just been served with divorce papers by your spouse. You had no idea it was coming, the hardest time to stay calm and make a plan. If you were served today, start counting twenty days tomorrow. You will have to serve a formal response to the papers that you were served, within twenty days. Put the date on a calendar. Do not miss that date. The papers you are served will tell you what you can lose if you miss that date. Do not hide your head in the sand and ignore the divorce papers. Take action.

Divorce actions often get very ugly, and without knowledge of your rights, ugly can happen pretty quickly. No one will be kicking you out of the house. If they try, your divorce lawyer can help protect you from those efforts. If you do not plan to represent yourself, find a lawyer that is experienced in divorce law. This needs to be someone that you trust to take you safely through this divorce process, someone that you are comfortable with and like because you will be together for the next many months during the divorce process. You need to get divorce counsel as quickly as possible. Twenty days is not much time, and there are circumstances where you might have to be in Court prior to that twenty day deadline. Remember one very important thing: Your divorce is not the same as anyone else’s so do not listen to what happened with all of your neighbors’ divorces. Save yourself the heartache of even listening to their horror stories. The goal in choosing the right attorney is to prevent your divorce from being a horror story.

Now you have the first part of your plan: do not panic, do nothing crazy or rash and find competent divorce counsel. Having that part of your divorce plan in place should be making you feel a bit calmer already. Your attorney will build the rest of the successful plan with you. You will no longer be alone.

Your divorce attorney will draft the responsive papers to the Summons and Complaint you have been served. She may also draft papers for certain protections while the divorce is in progress for things such as maintenance (the new word for alimony), custody and child support, custody, exclusive use and possession of the marital residence, or other issues your divorce case requires. You and your divorce attorney will discuss and decide this together.

Generally, absent a motion for necessary interim relief, your first Court appearance will be a preliminary conference for your divorce action. This conference results in a schedule for your entire divorce litigation, all of the necessary stages, so you walk out of this conference with everything set including your trial date. At this conference, any issues that are unnecessary in your case, already agreed to or in place by a Court Order are noted and ordered by the Court. These conferences aid in limiting the time and expense of your divorce action. For example, if both parties agree that the divorce is going to happen and who is going to get it (even if you are served divorce papers you can still be the one that gets the divorce), then that issue is decided and you never have to deal with the issue of divorce itself again. If you already have agreed to who will have primary custody, or that you want a joint custody, then that issue if off the table and you may simply need to get a custodial schedule together as part of the overall divorce action. Child support will be addressed at some level at the divorce preliminary conference, perhaps a temporary award made, but it depends on many circumstances as to precisely what will happen. The point is, when you leave that conference, you know what issues do not need to be addressed again and what issues need to be pursued in the divorce litigation from this point forward.

The next step in the divorce action is an information gathering stage called discovery. This is often used to seek financial information, asset information and income information, but is absolutely not limited to that. It is limited only by what issues remain open in the divorce after the prelim. There are many methods to conduct discovery: written questions, depositions (recorded testimony solicited by one of the attorneys from you or your spouse), demands for documents, appraisals of real property and other assets, and various other methods used to obtain the information needed for your divorce to go to trial. The date for discovery methods to end is in your preliminary conference Order for your divorce. Your next Court appearance is a pre-trial conference and if your divorce is not settled, the next phase of the divorce is trial on the issues that remained open after your preliminary conference for your divorce.

These are the divorce basics in overview. There are circumstances in your divorce that may require your case to have an additional Court appearance or two or more. Keep in mind that throughout this entire divorce process, there can be settlement negotiations. You and your spouse can settle your case, or portions of it, at any time you come to an agreement. Do not be hasty, be wise and stick to the plan you and your attorney have made.

Contcat Renata Weissman's Brooklyn NY Family Law Practice promptly for legal Divorce advice, she can be reached Toll Free at 855-736-2829.