4 Steps to Take Once You’ve Been Served with Divorce Papers

Being served with divorce papers can leave you feeling angry, stressed, and upset. However, it is vital that you familiarize yourself with the process and what to do next. You don’t have to act immediately, but you will have limited time to respond if you want to respond to the lawsuit. If you do not take action, the divorce may proceed without you, and you may lose certain rights for not having responded in a timely manner.

What Are “Divorce Papers?”

Being served with divorce papers in North Carolina will involve one spouse being served with two documents, namely a Summons and Complaint. The Summons indicates that one spouse is effectively being sued by the other and asserts the power of the court to preside over the case. The Summons will also contain the date by which you must respond, which in North Carolina is within 30 days. 

The Complaint is the more important document as it contains the information pertinent to the case such as:

  • The name, county, and state of residence of each party to the action
  • The date the marriage took place
  • Any children (under 18) of the parties
  • An acknowledgment that at least one of the parties is and has been a resident of North Carolina for at least six months prior to the filing of the Complaint

The Complaint also documents the claims that the Plaintiff (the one filing the action) is asserting, which may include one or all of the following:

  • Absolute divorce (In NC, this can only happen if the spouses have been separated and living apart for over a year as of the date the Complaint was filed)
  • Custody or visitation
  • Equitable distribution (which is the same as property division)
  • Alimony/Spousal Support
  • Child Support
  • Any additional claims related to the cessation of the marriage

Divorce papers are important legal documents. However, they are not necessarily easy to understand, and hiring an experienced divorce attorney to talk you through the meanings can be helpful to ensure absolute clarity before proceeding. So, once you have been served, what do you do next?

1. Keep a clear, calm head

Even if you are angry with your spouse, bad-mouthing your spouse, becoming angry, threatening, or taking any extreme actions could damage your case and make things more challenging in the long run.

2. Make note of the deadlines

In North Carolina, you have 30 days to respond to the Summons and Complaint. Make sure you make a note of the deadline date, so you are clear on when to respond. It is also essential to find out how and when you need to ask for an extension of time if you don’t think it will be possible for you to make the deadline (you may only ask for one extension). A family lawyer can help you make that request.

3. Research and hire an experienced divorce lawyer

Divorce proceedings can be complicated matters, even if your divorce is amicable. This is particularly true when it comes to splitting assets and debts and/or negotiating custody of children. Having a divorce lawyer negotiate on your behalf will ensure your rights, property, and children are protected. 

4. Get your documents together

Thirty days might feel like a long time, but it’s best to get organized as soon as possible. Speak with a family law attorney about what your rights are, what is likely to happen in your case, how to deal with the upcoming changes in your life, and how to prepare for “your day in court” (if necessary). You will need to begin to gather information that will assist you in getting your case resolved as quickly as possible. You may need to show proof of things such as financial records, asset ownership, and other helpful items that corroborate your version of the relevant facts involved.  Also, getting your information in order early on in the process can be helpful and save time during the negotiation phase or if you should find yourself needing to go before a judge.

Contact Haas & Associates Today

The experienced family lawyers at Haas & Associates, P.A. can help you through this challenging life event. Our team treats each case with empathy while offering practical, actionable advice and fighting to ensure your rights are protected. Contact us today on 919-783-9669 to see how we can help you.