Although some couples make the mutual decision to get a divorce, in some cases one spouse may surprise the other with a demand for divorce. This usually occurs when the other spouse is served with divorce papers. If you have been served with court filings for a divorce, you should know what that means and what next steps you need to take.
What Does It Mean to Be “Served”?
After a spouse files a complaint for divorce with the courts, the divorce proceedings begin once the initial court papers are “served” on the other spouse. These documents include:
- A copy of the petition for divorce filed by your spouse
- A citation, which is a document issued by the court that formally notifies you that you have been made a party to a court proceeding
Initial court papers may also include any other forms that were filed by your spouse along with the original petition, as well as any orders that may have already been issued by the judge.
Service of court papers can be accomplished in one of several ways:
- Typically, you are served with papers in person, where the papers are delivered by a sheriff, constable, or privately hired process server
- You can also be served by certified or registered mail (return receipt requested) by the court or by a sheriff, constable, or process server; service is only considered valid if you sign the return receipt
- If your spouse cannot locate you to serve you in person or by mail, they can have the court approve service by posting or publication. Service through this method means that the citation will be posted at the courthouse and the court’s website, as well as published in local newspapers where you are believed to reside
- Finally, the court can approve any other method of service that is reasonably calculated to provide you with notice of the divorce proceeding, such as posting the papers on your door, leaving them with a responsible adult at your home or place of work, mailing them to you by regular mail, or even emailing them to you or sending them to you via social media.
You can also voluntarily waive service by filing a waiver of service form with the court.
What You Should Do If You’re Served Divorce Papers
Once you have been served with divorce papers, you should first read all the documents. The judge may have issued temporary restraining orders that may affect where you can live or go or who you can have contact with. The papers will also typically include a date for the next scheduled hearing in the case.
The next critical step involves speaking to a family law attorney. An attorney can explain the next steps involved in your case, including when you need to file a response to the case. An attorney can either prepare your answer, or they can simply advise you as to your legal rights and options.
You can file an answer, although you have issues you want to be resolved that were not brought up in your spouse’s original petition, you can also file a counter-petition for divorce to bring those issues to the court’s attention.
If you do not file anything in the case, your spouse will obtain a default judgment against you, but you will also have no say in the resolution of the issues in your divorce.
Contact a Dallas-Fort Worth Divorce Attorney
If you have been served with divorce papers by your soon-to-be ex-spouse, contact the Dallas-Fort Worth divorce lawyers at Hargrave Law, PC, today for a confidential consultation. We’ll discuss your legal rights and options and the next steps to take in protecting your interests in your divorce case in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex or elsewhere throughout Texas.