Just as with any other legal matter, it is vital that you file a response if you have been served divorce papers. If you do not file a response you will be effectively saying that you agree with everything claimed by your soon-to-be ex and that you agree to give up any right to contest the filing later.
Don't let this happen to you. It's not uncommon to feel confused by this highly emotional and legally complicated situation, so this is why it's important to hire an attorney that you feel comfortable with and who will help to guide you through this process.
It is important to understand that if you have been served divorce papers, the things listed in the petition/complaint WILL BE awarded if you do not respond. After the allowed response time has passed (30 days in California) your spouse can ask the court to award everything they have asked for based on your default.
It's definitely not recommend that you ignore the divorce papers, even if your first thought is that you agree with most of what is claimed. Often what may seem like a small thing now can turn into a big problem later on. This is why it's so important that you respond.
Divorce Petitions always tend to ask for everything but the kitchen sink. The legal rule is: if you don't ask for it in the petition, you cannot get it later. So don't worry, petitions ALWAYS ask for everything. It's not uncommon that the Divorce Petition says that you will have to pay for your spouse's attorney fees. This is pretty standard and doesn't mean that your spouse will get this.
Here are some tips on what to do on an immediate basis if you've been served with divorce papers:
- Don't panic about the divorce - best decisions are made with a cool head.
- Sit down, relax, and re-read the divorce papers, make a note of anything that you don't fully understand.
- Start looking for an attorney who is experienced in handling divorce. I offer a free initial consultation so that you can get your immediate questions answered.
- Don't call your spouse in anger or to argue about what is in the papers that have been filed. Now that the legal system has been engaged it will run its course and delivering your upset to your spouse won't change that and it may create even more damage. No contact may be the best policy initially.
- If you have children, do not draw them into the conflict. This is best for your children and will put you in the strongest position when your case goes to court.
- You have 30 days (in California) from the date on the summons to file your "Response" to the "Petition for Dissolution of Marriage." Not one day more than that! So don't go into hibernation mode.
- If possible, take some time off work so you can devote some thought and planning time to the situation.
- Talk with friends and family about the divorce. If discord with your spouse had been a secret, it is about to be "let out of the bag." You can really benefit from the support of friends and family at this time. Or if you cannot talk to family and friends, try speaking with a therapist.
Most importantly, don't go into despair. All stressful events eventually pass and so will this. You may feel that your life is being torn apart and that there may never again be a bright day, but remember that the vast majority survives their divorce unscathed and many come out stronger.
Yes, it is possible to make a fresh start and begin a new life and eventually regain your happiness and satisfaction in life. But for now you have only one thing to consider: find a family law attorney and get your response filed.