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What to Do After Being Served With Divorce Papers


What do you do next?  Whether you are expecting this or not, there is a lot to consider.  The first thing to look at is how you were served.  When your spouse files for divorce, they must have you served with papers to proceed with the divorce case.  Failure to have you properly served results in a dismissal of the divorce case.

Divorce papers can be served by personal service, certified mail, or signing for the documents.  If the papers were handed to you by a process server, or by any adult other than your spouse, you have 21 days to respond, assuming you were properly served.  If you received the papers by certified mail and signed for them, you have 28 days to respond. 

How you handle yourself early on can be vital to how successful your divorce is, as well as minimizing the emotional and mental strain that it will place on you.  It’s important to take the right steps early on so that things can be handled properly.

It does not normally make sense to refuse to accept the documents, and refusal can lead to problems with the divorce case potentially proceeding without you.  So if you become aware that someone is trying to serve you with divorce papers you should cooperate in getting your copy of those papers.

Once you are served, the divorce begins to move forward.  Choosing to hire a divorce lawyer is the best move you can make as your first step.  However, if you choose to represent yourself, you should at least meet with a divorce attorney early on in the process to get your questions answered and have your specific documents reviewed. 

The papers you are served with in a divorce include a divorce complaint, a summons, court orders, and other state required forms depending on whether or not you have minor children.  It will state, usually in very generic, non-specific terms, the details required for a divorce such as the date of marriage, and some general statements about why a divorce is being filed. The court summons is a document from the court explaining that you are a party in this case and it also states how long you have to respond. 

Read the paperwork carefully. There may be additional documents, such as a motion or court orders.  A motion is a written request asking the court to do something, and it sets a hearing date that you must prepare for and attend. The motion may request the court enter orders on issues such as who will remain in the home, who has custody of the children, parenting time, spousal support, or child support.  There may also be a court order setting court dates that you must attend. 

Your response must be filed timely for the divorce case to proceed.  Failing to respond can lead to you being defaulted, leaving you with no say in any issues in the divorce. If the documents contain a court order, you may only have 14 days to file objections to that court order.  Or, if the documents contain a motion, the court date for the hearing on that motion may be in seven days.

You also have the right to file a Counterclaim for Divorce, which is basically your own divorce complaint.  Whether this is necessary is a good discussion to have with an experienced divorce and family law attorney. 

An experienced divorce lawyer can help you with all aspects of the divorce case, including what’s expected of you, what you need to do and where and when you need to be in court. The more information you can get early on in the process, the better off you will be. 


About ADAM (American Divorce Association for Men)

The American Divorce Association for Men (ADAM) is a group of highly qualified attorneys who advocate for men’s rights in divorce, child custody and parenting time, paternity, support, property settlement, post judgment modifications, and other family law matters. Since 1988, ADAM has been aggressive, diligent, and uncompromising when representing their clients. A team of compassionate and skilled family law attorneys, ADAM is dedicated to being Michigan’s leading divorce attorneys for men.


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