I've Been Served With Divorce Papers, Now What?
Whether you were expecting your spouse to file for divorce or not, the day you get served with divorce papers can be extremely emotional. The several pages full of legal jargon, requests and deadlines can be overwhelming and confusing. Here are some simplified explanations and tips to help you navigate the legal next steps in your divorce.
The Complaint for Divorce
The Complaint for Divorce (or sometimes called the Petition for Divorce) may appear odd to you at first glance. There are several parts that are confusing or seem to be worded in a way that does not make sense. Here are some “‘confusing’” parts in the Complaint that we find ourselves explaining to our clients often:
Clients often ask us why it states “on or about” before the date of their marriage, as if their spouse did not know the actual date of their marriage. This is just one example of the required legal jargon you will encounter throughout the Complaint.
There may also be references to a variety of Georgia laws and warnings about complying with those laws, as well as a “WHEREFORE” clause at the end of the Complaint. This basically reiterates the requests found in the entire document. Again, a lot of this is simply a function of long-standing tradition and arcane protocols.
Many clients are surprised by some of the initial requests that your spouse made in the Complaint, such as a child custody demands or an ask for alimony and/or child support. This is especially true when the demands do not correspond with the historical child caring or wage -earning roles during the marriage.
The Complaint for Divorce and the corresponding responsive pleading, which is often an Answer and Counterclaim for Divorce, outlines the maximum relief that you or your spouse may ask the court to award at a final trial in a divorce case. It does NOT mean that your spouse will insist on certain demands in these pleadings during settlement discussions or at the final trial. Also, it does not mean that the court will award that relief to you or your spouse based on the facts of your marriage. For example, often times spouses will demand that the other spouse pays for his or her legal fees. However, just because they ask for it does not mean the court will require it.
While your spouse should have reviewed the Complaint for Divorce in detail before it was filed, it is usually their lawyer (or someone in their lawyer’s office) who finalized it. During this process, mistakes can happen. For example, a name may be misspelled, the wrong birth date for a child may be listed, or an address may not be correct. These can be easily corrected by the filing spouse or in the response.
Service of the Divorce Papers and Other Legal Pleadings
There are two ways that you may be provided the initial divorce papers:
The first method is to be formally served by a private process server or by the Sheriff.
The second method is by receiving a packet from your spouse or their attorney with the Complaint and typically another pleading called an Acknowledgment of Service for you to sign. This is not formal service like the first method. Your spouse is giving you the opportunity to acknowledge service of the Complaint without a court appointed person formally serving you with the pleadings. Your spouse’s attorney will ask for you to sign the Acknowledgement of Service in the presence of a notary public and return it to their office to be filed as soon as possible to avoid formal service.
Regardless of how you were served, it’s important that you’re cognizant of the deadline to respond to the Complaint based on the date you sign the Acknowledgment of Service. It is best to contact an attorney right away so they can guide you through this process.
Formal Discovery of Requests
In addition to the Summons and Complaint for Divorce, you may also be served with formal discovery requests. These formal discovery requests are often ‘Interrogatories’ and a ‘Request for the Production of Documents,’ which basically ask you to answer questions under oath and produce a wide set of documents to your spouse’s lawyer. If these are served on you with the Complaint, then you have 45 days to respond to them. Your timely response to these discovery requests is very important to preserve certain rights under Georgia law.
Additionally, it is crucial that you retain counsel as soon as possible to assist in your response so you don’t waive certain privileges or protections under Georgia law by failing to assert them in your response.
The Court’s Standing Order
You will also be served with the Court’s Standing Order, which is a very important document. This document may have different names depending on the county, but the content is usually the same.
Once you are served with the Standing Order, you are required to comply with the provisions in it. The Standing Order attempts to broadly prohibit parties from taking certain actions that would alter the status quo of the family. Specifically, there are strict prohibitions against things like:
Removing children from the jurisdiction of the court;
Harassing your spouse;
Disposing of assets outside the ordinary course of business;
Disconnecting utility services to the marital residence; and
Changing any insurance coverage on or after the case filing date.
If you willfully violate any of these provisions, you may be held in contempt of the court, which may include incarceration in your county’s jail.
Required Parenting Seminar
If your case involves minor children, then you are required to attend a parenting seminar that addresses how to handle the transition for the children during and after a divorce. Depending on your county, you can either take the seminar online or attend in person at set times during each month. Most courts require that both parties attend the seminar as soon as possible, but no later than before the conclusion of the case.
Let Marple Rubin Family Law Be Your Advocate
Though being served with divorce papers is not a pleasant process, you can be certain that the attorneys at Marple Rubin Family Law are here to help you navigate the next steps. Our award-winning attorneys are available to meet with you to discuss the specifics of your case. Please contact us at 770-796-4000 or visit our website at www.marplerubin.com for more information or to schedule a consultation.