I Got Served Divorce Papers! Now What?

By Jackie Pilossoph, Editor-in-chief, Divorced Girl Smiling, Love Essentially columnist and author

Divorced Girl Smiling received an email from a guy basically saying, “I got served divorce papers! Now what?!”

“What have other people done to get through the period between being served and then the ultimate end?” he asked.

“I got served divorce papers” isn’t the start of a divorce. Divorce can start five years before it actually happens. But, when one of the two files for divorce,that is the OFFICIAL start of a divorce: a process that can last two months or six years. I’ve seen both and everything in between.

A divorce ends OFFICIALLY when the two people go to court, stand in front of a judge with an agreement in hand, and the judge signs it and declares them divorced. Or, they go to trial and when that decision is made by a judge or jury, they are officially divorced. But, we all know a divorce decree isn’t the end of a divorce. A divorce never ends, in my opinion, especially when the couple has kids.

What my reader wants to know is, how do you survive the period between being served divorce papers and the official end of the divorce. It’s a time that some might call a journey. I personally think it’s a roller coaster, and at times, hell on earth.

What I want to tell this reader is brace yourself. Be prepared to be upset, depressed, angry, scared and hurt. I hate having to say that but it really is the truth.

When two people enter divorce litigation (which is what is happening when someone files) their fate is in the hands of their attorneys and the judge who is assigned to their case.

So, one of the stresses is how little control you actually have over your divorce.

I can remember feeling like I was on trial during this period of time, like everything I did and how I was acting was being watched or monitored, and that if I did anything that the judge didn’t like, I could lose my kids. Sound a little paranoid? That’s exactly what people become. They are scared. Really, really scared. And that is probably the biggest cause of stress, and what makes people so angry with their soon-to-be ex. Fear can lead to anger.

One thing you can control is choosing wisely when it comes to your attorney. Make sure you trust this person with all your heart. Trust your gut in making your decision. Ask yourself:

1. Would this attorney present him/herself well in court?
2. Is he/she likeable and professional? Would he/she be liked by the judge?
3. Is he/she just trying to make money or do they really seem to care about justice?
4. Is he/she too busy for me? Or are they going to give my case the attention it needs? In other words, am I just a number?
5. Does my attorney have a good track record? Is he/she experienced? Do I know anyone who used the attorney who would say good things about him/her?
6. Do I feel in my gut that this person has my best interest at heart?

The other thing you can control is how you act, the decisions you make and how you choose to deal with the stress of this hard time. There are good ways and bad ways. Bad ways include excessive drinking, drugs and other addictive outlets. Good ways: exercise, yoga, faith, therapy, using your support system-friends and family.

Over the next few months (or even years, but hopefully not) be prepared for the worst. Even though every case is unique, here are some common bombs that can be dropped:

1. Your ex sues for sole custody. (that’s the worst one)
2. Your ex accuses you of something that is untrue.
3. Your ex’s opinion of child support is completely different than what you think is fair.
4. Your ex refuses to settle. Seems like he/she thrives on battling, which can only mean more legal fees.
5. Your monthly statements come in the mail from your attorney and you seriously feel like throwing up.
6. You come to get your kids and your ex isn’t speaking to you (seems particularly angry-even though he/she is angry all the time) and you have no idea why.
7. Your kids will be more on edge because you are.
8. You will fight more w your soon-to-be ex because both of you are much more on edge.

What I experienced, and what I have seen others experience is that this is a time of turmoil and chaos. There’s a lot of uncertainty and surprises (in a bad way). It’s a roller coaster ride. One day your attorney tells you your ex is going to settle, the next, your ex changes his/her mind and you’re back in court.

Here’s the good news. It will end someday, and that is a very very very good day.

You walk out of court and your divorce is finalized, and yes, there is sadness, but for me, most of it was relief: no more uncertainty, so no more being afraid. The terms are on a piece of paper that I’m holding in my hand. No more attorney’s fees. No more fighting, because you already legally settled it.

I also find that ex’s become more civil and kind to each other because a ton of pressure was just lifted off of them.

Of course, we all know that many people don’t follow divorce decrees and you could end up back in court, but that’s something you have to accept as a possibility and try not to worry about.

“I got served divorce papers” eventually turns into “My divorce was just final,” and then hopefully turns into, “My ex and I are very amicable, the kids are great, and by the way, I’m in love!”

Buy novels by Jackie Pilossoph



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Jackie Pilossoph

Editor-in-chief: Jackie Pilossoph

Divorce is a journey. Live it with grace, courage and gratitude. Peace and joy are on the way! Jackie Pilossoph is the creator and Editor-In-Chief of Divorced Girl Smiling. The author of the novels, Divorced Girl Smiling and Free Gift With Purchase, Pilossoph also writes the weekly dating and relationships advice column, “Love Essentially”, published in the Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press and the Chicago Tribune online. Additionally, she is a Huffington Post contributor. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism from Boston University.

5 Responses to “I Got Served Divorce Papers! Now What?”

  1. Cheryl

    Timely post, I’m expecting to receive mine within the next week and am scared of what is to follow. I am beginning to realize that a lot of my emotions are coming from the fear of the divorce process and not so much the end of my 12 year marriage. I will continue to read all of your blogs, they have been most helpful..especially taking the high road. My thoughts are with anyone going through this, it’s the most uncomfortable feeling I’ve ever felt.

  2. Liv

    I hate to say it – but I’m not a huge fan of this type of advice. If you’ve been served with divorce papers, you need to take a big breath, put on your big boy pants, and walk into the whole process trying to be as amicable as possible. Try to find some common ground, get a mediator, and get it done as quickly and painlessly as possible. Especially if there are children involved. Only bring out the big guns if you’ve tried that and you have no other alternative. Sorry – I’m normally a big fan of your advice – this one didn’t sit right with me.

    • Jackie Pilossoph

      You make it sound really easy, which we all know it isn’t. I think my advice and your advice is similar. You say “put on your big boy pants,” I say, “get tough.” The difference is (besides the length of the post) that I am trying to offer concrete coping mechanisms because while your advice is good, we all know it’s never that simple or easy. It’s easy to tell someone to “get a mediator” or “get it done as quickly as possible,” but I’ve rarely seen that happen. Sad, but true.

  3. Tonya

    My ex signed the second draft of divorce papers today. They are now in my attorney’s hand. Our court date is beginning of next month. I don’t see this next month as being a rollercoaster especially in comparison to the first few months of the separation. That was awful. I’m now in the stage of being ready for it to be finalized. Looking forward to bigger and better things in my future!

  4. Maria

    Excellent Advice! I’m both divorced and a divorce attorney so I understand it from all sides. Great insight and great blog!


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