What Should I Do If I’m Served Divorce Papers?Published: Mar 27, 2017 in Divorce
Written by Anthony Piccirilli
Being officially presented with legal documents such as divorce papers is formally known as “service of process” and it is necessary to begin any type of legal proceeding. Being served is how a party who begins a lawsuit gives formal notice to the other party that he or she is being sued. Service enables the court to see that all parties are aware of the litigation and have had a chance to provide their initial statements through the complaint and its answer before the lawsuit moves forward. When your husband or wife files for divorce, he or she must serve you the divorce papers. The proceedings cannot move forward until this happens. However, once it does happen, you have to be ready to respond.
How You Can be Served
Pennsylvania enables you to be served divorce papers in a couple ways. You may be served through the mail and to be done properly, your spouse must send you the divorce complaint, notice to appear in court, and any other necessary documents. The letter must be addressed to you at your last known address through regular and certified mail and with a return receipt requested. Mail is most commonly used when your spouse knows you are expecting the paperwork and will accept service this way.
You may also be served by a sheriff or another capable adult except for your spouse. You can be served at your home, your usual place of business, or at a hotel or boarding house where you live. The documents do not have to be handed to you directly. The sheriff or another competent adult can give the paperwork to any adult member of the family who lives at your home or is in charge. If you live in a hotel or boarding house, the server can give the papers to the clerk or manager of that place. At work, it can be given to whoever is in charge. You can also receive personal service from a server providing the paperwork to your dedicated agent, which is usually an attorney.
Additionally, you must be served within 30 days of your spouse originally filing the divorce papers.
What You Should Do After Being Served
First and foremost, take a deep breath. Whether the papers are a surprise or you knew they were coming, seeing them in your hand can be difficult. This is often the moment when adults realize their lives are drastically going to change. While divorces are hard on individuals and families, they are possible to get through. Take a moment and give yourself time to process this change.
Second, read through the paperwork carefully. This packet will contain multiple pieces of paper. There should be a cover sheet, which is fairly basic. It will tell you what the document is, who filed it, and identify that person’s attorney. There will be a notice to defend, which gives you information about defending yourself, including information about obtaining an attorney. The complaint itself is the multi-page document that asks for the divorce. It will include factual details regarding your marriage, you and your spouse, and your children. It will also include what your spouse is requesting in regard to the property, spousal support, child custody, and child support. The complaint should also have a verification page signed by your spouse stating that what is laid out in the complaint is true.
There may also be a document titled an Affidavit Under Section 3301(d) of the Divorce Code. This can be used when it has been at least two years since you and your spouse separated. It gives you a different deadline to respond, and if you do not answer in time, your spouse can be granted a divorce without your input or consent.
Third, call a Pittsburgh divorce lawyer. It is OK to take a day or two before contacting a lawyer. However, do not wait too long as there are filing deadlines you will need to meet. An attorney can be sure that you are served properly and that you respond in the best way possible within the time limit. You may feel like a lawyer is not necessary if the situation is amicable. However, a lawyer can ensure your rights are protected throughout the divorce at that everything is above board for you and your spouse to move on.
Fourth, prepare to respond. Most lawsuits require that a defendant files an answer to the plaintiff’s complaint. However, in Pennsylvania, you are not required to file an answer to a divorce complaint. Yet that does not mean you should not file an answer. An attorney can explain when filing an answer is appropriate, helpful, or absolutely necessary for the situation. You usually have 20 days from being served to respond. Even if you do not respond with a formal answer, you will need to file your appearance in court, which will include a filing fee, and attend court when the paperwork says to.
Contact a Pittsburgh Divorce Lawyer for Advice
You may think there is a benefit to representing yourself during a divorce. Unfortunately, divorce law can be complex and without the help of a knowledgeable attorney, you may miss an important deadline, not know what to expect, and inadvertently give up crucial rights. No matter how amicable you believe your divorce will be, a lawyer can help you smoothly navigate the process and protect your rights.