Whether expected or not, being served with divorce papers is never a pleasant experience. If it catches you totally by surprise, the shock can be enough to numb you into not taking any action. But this would be a mistake. You need to take the necessary steps to protect your legal rights and your financial future, including the following:
Review the documents.
As painful as it may be, you need to read every word in those divorce papers because there is a lot of information in them you need to know. The document will include information on where the divorce action has been filed as well as specify the grounds for divorce. It will also tell you whether your spouse has filed on his/her own or is represented by an attorney. In addition, there will probably be details on what your spouse has requested from the court in terms of child custody and support, alimony, property division and more. Most importantly, it will include a deadline in which your response must be filed with the court — in New Jersey, a response must be filed within 35 days or the court may grant the divorce as well as all the plaintiff’s requests.
Hire an attorney.
You will have your hands full enough dealing with the emotional aspects of divorce (especially if you have children) to be able to take on the legal side of divorce as well. You will need experienced legal counsel to guide you. Your attorney can review the filing and advise you of your options for protecting your rights. If your spouse has already hired an attorney, it is especially important for you to do so as well so you are not at an immediate disadvantage in dealing with the legal process of divorce.
Gather personal and financial documents.
The divorce process is paperwork-intensive, which means it is critically important for you to have access to all your financial data — income tax returns for the past three years, W-2s, bank and credit card statements, pay stubs, investment account statements, and more. Your attorney can provide you with a list of all the necessary information; keep in mind that the more organized you are, the more smoothly the divorce process will go for you.
Put protections in place.
Once a divorce action is underway, it’s important for you to protect yourself financially and emotionally. A good therapist can help you with the emotional side but you’ll need to take some steps yourself when it comes to protecting yourself financially. Pull your latest credit report and scour it for any new debts you may not be aware of. Open a new bank account in your name only and have all direct deposits re-routed there. Find out which credit cards were opened based on your credit history or your spouse’s history; if it was based on your history and your spouse has a card, ask the lender to remove him or her. And you should certainly consider mediation as a less expensive alternative to a contested divorce in court.
It is important that you do not wait too long to retain an attorney when you are facing a family law issue. Delays can cost you valuable legal rights, and you want to make sure that you have the advice and support you need to make the best decisions for you and your family long after the divorce settlement is reached. Contact us today for your free consultation.