I was just served, what do I do next?

Being handed divorce papers can leave individuals in an uncomfortable position. 

A divorce case officially begins when one party files the proper paper work in court system in the county where they reside. (Or the county where the other party resides).  After the case is filed with the clerk of court, then the documents (the divorce papers) are sent to a process server.  In general, you are officially served when an authorize process server knocks on your door, hands you the divorce papers and states that you have been served.  This process can be incredibly shocking, scary and maybe even embarrassing. Sometimes my clients prefer to not give their spouse the heads up that they will be served in the foreseeable future.  There are definitely tactical advantages to surprising your spouse, and each individual family law case is different.  However, the majority of my clients prefer to keep the process as amicable as possible and choose to inform their spouse that a divorce lawyer has been hired.  I often encourage my clients to speak with their spouse and inform the spouse that they can arrange to meet the process server somewhere to accept the papers.  This can avoid the awkward possibility of a process server showing up on your doorstep and your children answer the door.  This also sets the tone the case will take in the future.

My first advice, when confronted with a process server, is to not hide and avoid service.  On rare occasions, this does actually happen. I have seen opposing parties shut the curtains, lock the door and refuse to answer when the process server comes knocking.  You may think you are doing the right thing by avoiding the process server, but the process server will eventually server you.  They will find a way.  That can even involve the process server showing up at your work or calling your employer to inform them they need to serve you with documents.  Most people want to avoid their employer being involved in their personal lives as much as possible.  I always advise my clients to accept the divorce papers, communicate appropriately with the process server and by all means, do not be rude.  The process server will file an affidavit of service in your public court file.  This affidavit of service will detail all actions taken to server you, including any thing you might do to avoid service.  Again, I always advise my clients to accept the documents, it will be in your best interest in the end.

The next step would be to contact a Tampa Bay family law attorney.  Divorce paperwork is often written in a language that lawyers can easily understand, but a language that can be very confusing to the lay person.  A Tampa Bay family law attorney can help you understand exactly what each document means and what your spouse is actually requesting.  The family law attorney will be able to help explain what your rights and responsibilities under the law will be in your pending case.  A divorce can be a very emotional and scary time in a persons life.  An experienced, compassionate family law attorney will be able to help guide you through the often confusing legal process.

One very important word of advice, do not ignore the divorce papers that were served upon you.  There are strict deadlines that you have to file a response.  On a rare occasion, I will have papers served upon an opposing party and the opposing party simply refuses to respond.  Refusing to respond within the strict deadline can have very adverse consequences in your case.  A default could be entered against you if you fail to respond.  By being silent, the court will assume that you agree to everything that your spouse is asking for.  Your spouse can then proceed to a final hearing and get everything they want.  I have yet to have a client who agrees to every single request by their spouse.  There are rare instances where this default may be set aside, but often you are simply out of luck if you fail to respond during the time given to respond.  Responding on time will be one of the most important things that you do in your divorce case.

If you have recently been served with divorce papers or require legal assistance in other areas of Family Law you may always contact Damien McKinney of The McKinney Law Group to discuss your case further. He can be reached by phone at 813-428-3400 or by e-mail at [email protected].