People tend to panic when they receive their divorce papers, even if they knew it was coming. Having those papers in hand tends to make the breakdown of your marriage more “real.” Like many people, if you haven't already started preparing for your divorce, there are some things you should do (and some things you should NOT do) after being served with divorce papers.
What Not to Do After Receiving Divorce Papers
Don't flip out. You are far less likely to make good decisions about what to do next (and in fact, are more likely to make some very bad decisions).
Don't call your spouse. If you're angry, upset or even just a little disturbed, immediately contacting your spouse is a terrible idea. You are very likely to say things you will regret or, even worse, disclose information which could negatively impact your case or your settlement later on.
Don't bring your kids into the divorce. This suggestion cannot be over-emphasized. Your children are not getting a divorce: the issues are between you and your spouse. The Courts are clear on this point: Children are not to be dragged into adult issues and should not be exposed to either parent saying negative or disrespectful things about the other parent, whom the children love. Other than providing emotional support to your children, do not talk to them about the divorce. You can be sure the Court will question both parties about these issues in the event your case goes to a hearing or trial. Your lawyer may be able to help you if your spouse is causing you problems as your case progresses.
Don't ever use the children as leverage. The most common way parents violate this principle is to withhold the children from the other parent until that parent pays child support. This type of retaliation may hurt your spouse, but it also hurts the children and the Court will not tolerate it. Of course, child support must be paid and it can be enforced through the Court; however, the children are not to be used as leverage to force payment of child support or for any reason whatsoever.
Don't talk about details to mutual friends. You never know with whom those mutual friends will choose to align themselves – you or your spouse. If is not you, those friends may react badly if you have badmouthed your spouse, who they perceive to be a close friend. Your could be damaged if you have revealed confidential information to a mutual friend and that information is later relayed to your spouse and used against you.
Don't use money as a weapon. If you and your spouse have joint bank or other accounts, you may be able to continue to use them or, at least, continue depositing some of your money into that account if it customarily was used to pay marital bills. This assumes that such use has not been restricted by the Court for any reason. You should make sure, to the best of your ability, that your spouse has sufficient funds to pay household bills – especially if the children reside with your spouse for a greater amount of time. Pulling out all or most of the money in an account frequently backfires and, if it is done after a Court case has been opened/re-opened and served, it will violate the Court’s Administrative Orders in many Circuits. Talk to your attorney before taking any money out of mutual accounts.
Don't go into denial and shut down. Refusing to accept the facts isn't going to help you; in fact, it very well could hurt you. Your best strategy is to get legal advice and deal with it quickly and in a calm, well-reasoned manner.
Don't fall apart. Don't focus on the negative. Divorce is tough for all involved but you will get through it eventually and will feel normal, or even happy, once again. Don’t hesitate to get emotional support from your church or a professional and lean on family and non-mutual friends. At the same time, don’t allow the bulk of your conversations about the divorce turn into a constant complaint about your spouse — it is unproductive and eventually may drive away your source of support from family and loved one. Finally, don’t cope with your anger or sadness by engaging in harmful behavior such as excessive drinking, use of illegal drugs or finding companionship through risky behavior. Not only are these things harmful for you in general, such behavior may be used against you in court. While your case is open and not yet final, always behave as if your mother is standing next to you.
Don't go on a spending spree. Divorce is expensive. First, you and your spouse must find a way to financially support two homes using the same total income as was used previously to support one home. Expenses which previously were shared by the parties now will become the sole responsibility of each of you. Also, one of you may be required to pay spousal or child support. Your attorney can help you evaluate the potential costs in that regard; however, if you have legal representation, you also must add to your budget the attorney’s fees required to retain counsel.
What You Should Do After Receiving Divorce Papers
Do take a day or two off work, if possible. You could use the time to process the information, get advice and decide on a game plan.
Do read the divorce papers - carefully. Read the Petition word for word and make notes (on a separate pad) as to your response to each claim and any questions you. Take a break and do it again.
Do educate yourself about divorce. Learn as much as possible about divorce in Florida. Your attorney certainly will protect your legal interests and can answer your questions and give you appropriate options regarding strategy; however, knowledge gives you the power to make ask meaningful questions and make informed decisions. You never want to make decisions regarding these important matters based upon fear alone. Our blog contains a wealth of information about divorce, as well as many other areas of family law.
Do mark your calendar. In Florida, you have 20 days to file and serve an answer to the divorce petition. The timeframe may be different in other states. Mark your deadline on your calendar and be sure to prepare ahead of time. Find out what it is and mark it on your calendar so you can see when it's approaching to keep you on track.
Do collect financial and other information. Start collecting information about your joint, individual (and personal business if applicable) assets, debts, income and other information required by law to be disclosed and exchanged between the parties. You may need to contact the IRS to get at least the last five years’ tax returns. If your spouse has information which you can't access, your attorney can help you get that information. Do not break the law to obtain it.
Do protect your finances. You may want to open a new checking and savings account to use moving forward; however, always be sure to check with your attorney. You don’t want to make important changes after your case has been filed, as some courts require the parties not to make major changes and to leave all accounts “as is” while the case is pending. Don't just cancel and close accounts to spite your spouse – it almost always backfires and the Court will not be pleased with you. Also, closing accounts does not change the fact that some assets and debts are marital property and must be shared between the parties.
Do take childcare notes. Start making notes about what responsibilities each party has regarding the children (financial and otherwise). Keep a detailed calendar with notes about when the children spend time with each parent and anything significant which happens. Keep it factual, not emotional. Include information as to any verbal agreements reached by the parties, as well as which parents drop off/pick up the kids, participates in school activities, helps the children with homework, makes the dinner, takes the children to the doctor/dentist, etc.
Do allow the children to be children. Keep your children out of the divorce, always reassure them they are not the cause of the divorce and make sure you tell them how much they are loved – by both parents. The Court will carefully consider which parent has proven he/she encourages the children to have a strong, healthy relationship with the other parent and is able to put the needs and best interests of the children at a higher priority than the parent’s own desires. Always comply with these guidelines, regardless of whether your spouse chooses to do so.
Do act quickly. The sooner you take action, the more organized and efficient you will be, which will reduce your stress level and, once again, help you to make better decisions. Disorganization can cause you to miss vitally important deadlines which potentially could cost you time, money and, most important, your rights to your own children. You do not want to rush blindly into some of your most important life decisions.
Do interview at least one attorney. Some divorce attorneys will provide a free consultation, meaning you can talk to them without risk of spending money you may not have on deciding whether the attorney will fit your needs. If you've received divorce papers in the Kissimmee, Florida, area, call the experienced divorce and child custody lawyers at Draper Law Offices at 866.767.4711 for a free, no-obligation consultation.
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