Sometimes divorce is filed after years of separation and is well anticipated. In other cases, it can come as a complete surprise to the person receiving paperwork. After receiving divorce papers, you must take immediate action to protect your legal rights and future.

1. Read the Papers

It’s important that you carefully read over the divorce papers, as they may contain a wealth of information, such as the court where the action was filed. This can be helpful information to know if you and your spouse have been estranged and the divorce is being filed in another state. The divorce papers should also list a deadline by which a response must be provided. Additionally, they will indicate whether your spouse is filing the paperwork on their own if they have retained an attorney.

Additionally, the divorce papers may allege the grounds for divorce, as well as requests by the moving party, including information about child support, spousal support, division of property, child custody and other issues related to the children.

2. Provide a Response

The divorce papers should indicate the number of days that you have to respond to the complaint or petition for divorce. This is usually 28 days, starting from the date when you were actually served with the divorce papers. However, you should be certain on this information. If you allow the deadline pass without responding, your spouse can potentially receive everything they requested in the divorce paperwork. Probably not ideal for you.

Normally, a person will provide a response through his or her attorney. However, if you cannot come up with the funds necessary to retain an attorney, you may have to provide a response on your own. Otherwise, you can forfeit your rights and legal arguments.

3. Hire an Attorney

Divorce can have a dramatic effect on a person’s life, so it’s important to retain legal counsel if at all possible. Even if you receive the paperwork and believe you’re in agreement with the divorce and allegations, a divorce attorney can review the documents and inform you of your legal rights and options. If the case later becomes contested, you’ll have someone who can advocate for your rights.

It’s especially important for you to retain an attorney if your spouse already has.

4. Gather Documents

If your spouse has already contacted a lawyer, they will likely ask you to bring in certain documents when you arrive at the initial hearing or later such as tax records, bank statements, retirement information, payroll information, and other financial information.

5. Protect Your Assets

You should also discuss how you can protect your assets. Some jurisdictions immediately call for all assets to be frozen once a divorce petition is filed with the court.

If your income is directly deposited to a joint account, you should consider setting up a separate bank account and re-routing the funds to this account. You should also pull your credit report to check your financial wellbeing and to see if any recent debt has been taken on of which you weren’t aware.

6. Protect Communications

It’s also extremely important to have your mail rerouted to maintain privacy from your spouse during divorce proceedings. Lawyers may send letters with strategic plans, and this information shouldn’t be revealed to your spouse. A post office box can help protect privacy and confidential communications.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.