Being served with divorce papers can be a jarring event, whether you were expecting it or not. You may be confused and uncertain about what your next steps should be. Knowing what to do after you’ve received a petition for divorce can help alleviate some of the stress and worry about how to proceed.
What Does Being Served Mean?
When someone initiates a legal complaint against you, such as a lawsuit or a divorce, the act of delivering the paperwork to you is formally known as “service of process.” In the state of Washington, there are certain rules over who may serve legal papers, but it’s most common that a private fee-based process server is used or someone from the county sheriff’s office.
When served paperwork for a divorce, you’re actually receiving the following two documents:
- The Summons. A summons is the legal document that formally tells you there is a legal action in place against you and grants the court the power to hear the case. The form contains information specific to your case, including the case number and the time in which you have to respond.
- Petition for Dissolution of Divorce. The petition will include information such as the name the people involved in the complaint (you and your spouse), the legal claim being made, and the desired outcome or relief that your spouse is asking for, including any demands for specific assets and alimony. It also should make clear the consequences for not responding in a timely fashion.
Even though it may be difficult, take the time to read through the papers, so you understand the demands of your partner. Then contact a divorce attorney who can answer any questions you have about the process and help you make your next move.
Can I Refuse Service?
Refusing service is almost always counterproductive and will likely hurt your case. Washington also makes it very easy for papers to be served, so you won’t be able to avoid them forever. Even if you refuse to take the papers from the hands of a process server, the fact that you have been verbally notified of service is usually enough for the state of Washington to allow the petition to proceed, with or without your involvement. Even if you’re actively evading the process servers, the court may opt to allow your spouse to instead file service through alternative methods, including by mail or even in the newspaper. Choosing not to participate in the legal process by avoiding service will likely result in a default judgement against you. This means that the demands of your spouse may be fully granted by the court and will be legally enforceable, whether you like it or not.
How Long Do I Have to Respond?
In the state of Washington, you typically have 20 days to reply to the petition and summons with a legal answer. The clock begins from the date you received service. However, it’s always wise to read the paperwork you receive thoroughly, as it should state the legal timeframe that you have to respond. Your attorney will help you begin your legal response immediately to make sure that you stay within the specified deadline.
What’s in a Legal Answer to a Divorce Petition?
Your legal answer is an acknowledgment that you received the divorce petition (and the summons) as well as whether you agree with the terms and conditions proposed by your spouse. You’ll address each demand, paragraph by paragraph. This is often done with a simple list of checkboxes, indicating your acceptance or denial, or a request for further information before you make a decision. You will also need to make a brief supporting statement explaining your reasons for each demand that you deny, as well as specify any counter-demands that you have.
Get Legal Help With Your Divorce
Some people try to address the divorce process alone, but a family lawyer can help you through it. She can answer your questions, help you with your response, and see you through trial, if your divorce ends up contested.
If you’ve been served divorce papers and don’t know where to turn, contact the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny. Call or use the contact form to schedule a private consultation in our Bellevue office today.