Divorced Girl Smiling received an email from a guy basically saying, “I got served divorce papers! Now what?!” So, I thought I’d write about what happens after divorce papers are filed.
My first piece of advice for what happens after divorce papers are filed is, despite what some people think, this isn’t really the start of a divorce. Divorce can start five years before divorce papers are filed by either party. But, when someone 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 happens after divorce papers are filed?
I’ll try to explain this as general as possible, but remember that every divorce case is different. First, if you get served divorce papers, don’t panic. Try not to get upset. You knew this was coming, right? Or maybe you didn’t. That would be awful, so if that’s you, I’m so sorry.
The first thing you need when you get served is to have a consultation with one or more divorce attorneys. Ask questions, get to know the attorney and your gut will tell you if he or she is a good fit for your case. Remember that YOU are interviewing the attorney and you will be paying him or her, so it’s OK to be picky.
Do not hire an attorney you don’t trust. If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right.
The attorney will most likely ask for money upfront (a retainer.) This is normal.
From here, you can hopefully trust your attorney for the next steps. In the papers filed, it will have a deadline for you to respond. The attorney will help you.
Next, educate yourself on the different ways to get divorced. YOU HAVE OPTIONS!
Here are your options:
1. Settle things with your soon to be ex on your own or with both of your attorneys (I actually got divorced that way after some litigation)
2. Mediation. A mediator helps you and your spouse come to a settlement.
3. Collaborative divorce. A team helps you get divorced.
4. Litigation. (if there is no way the two of you can come to agreements on your own.). It costs the most and a judge is making life decisions for you. But, you you have an unreasonable spouse or you are unreasonable, litigation might be the only option.
During the period after divorce papers are filed, here are some bombs that can be dropped that you might not see coming. They stem from anger and fear:
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 with 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 the time after divorce papers are filed is a time of turmoil, chaos and stress. There’s a lot of uncertainty and surprises (not fun ones). 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. There is a sense of peace that occurs. It’s really a nice reprieve and makes you feel hopeful and optimistic.
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, there is the possibility that some 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!”