I was just served with divorce papers, what do I do?
While you may have mentally prepared yourself as best as possible for a divorce, when you are actually served with divorce papers, it can still be an earth-shattering moment. Under California laws, as long as one party wants to dissolve the marriage, the court can grant a divorce, irrespective of whether the other party agrees to it or not. The right to a divorce in California is unilateral.
You should be aware of the next steps you must take after the divorce papers have been served on you. It is time to talk to an Orange County divorce lawyer (if you have not done so already), who will explain to your role as a “respondent” after you have been served the papers. Having an attorney by your side will give you the confidence and objectivity to act with an aim to protect your rights.
You Only Get 30 Days to Respond
Once the divorce papers have been served on you, it is vital that you review them carefully. Certain prohibitions are specified in these documents, which are known as Standard Family Law Restraining Orders. Your compliance with these orders is legally mandatory, and ignorance of the law will not be considered as your defense if you violate the orders.
Another notable point is that you are on a deadline to decide whether you wish to legally respond to your spouse’s notice of divorce. California law gives you 30 calendar days from the date the divorce papers are served on you to respond. Your failure to respond within deadline will mean that your spouse can proceed with the divorce process without any input from you.
Responding to the Divorce Petition
When you respond to the divorce petition, it does not mean that you are asking for a divorce, or that you are in agreement with what your spouse is asking for. Importantly, your response is an opportunity for you to tell your side of the story to the court and safeguard your legal rights. Your formal response to the Petitioner’s (your spouse’s) request for divorce will be filed as Form FL-120.
Through this form you will provide the same information as a Respondent, which your spouse provided as a Petitioner. At the same time, this form gives you an opportunity to agree or disagree with what the requesting party has stated in their Petition.
To complete your Response properly, it’s vital for you to review the Petition because both forms list the same questions. You should provide information in your Response based on what you truly believe to be the facts and what you really want. If you disagree with the Petition’s facts, your Response should articulate your disagreement.
If children are involved in your divorce, California law also requires you provide a Declaration under Uniform Child Custody Enforcement Act. Through this Declaration, the court will know where the children have been living in the last five years. It will also inform the court if there are any other legal cases that may influence the judge’s ability to decide on matters of child custody or visitation.
Where Can You File Your Response?
You are required to file your Response papers with the office of the family law clerk in your local courthouse in Orange County. You should know that family law courthouses do work on the usual business hour schedule, so check their closing timings.
Filing of the documents in the court requires you to include the original document along with two copies of each. The court clerk will retain the original document and return stamped (endorsed) copies back to you. Out of these, you will keep one copy for yourself, and serve the other copy on the Petitioner (your spouse).
The court clerk is not a lawyer will not be able to give legal advice to you. It is best to have the professional support of a knowledgeable Orange County family law attorney from this stage itself to ensure you have an effective divorce strategy from the start.
Serving the Response on the Petitioner
The law in California allows you to serve a Response on your spouse by mail. It does not require a Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt. Although you are free to serve with Notice and Acknowledge of Receipt, or even serve the Response in person, it is not a legal requirement.
The Response must be served by an adult who is not a party to the divorce case. In other words, someone else must mail the Response papers on your behalf. After the Response has been served, you will have to file a proof of the same with the Court. You can do this by filling out a Proof of Service form and sending by mail to the court clerk.
Divorce Process is Tedious. Legal Help is Here.
The divorce process right from the word ‘go’ can be tedious, and it can get overwhelming very quickly. You will need to juggle through multiple decisions, while taking care of legal formalities within deadlines. You and your ex might not see eye to eye on several aspects of your divorce, and emotions may run high.
In the midst of all this, it can get difficult to think clearly and make the right moves to achieve your goals. Make sure you have an accomplished Orange County divorce lawyer on your side who can hand-hold you through this complicated process at every step and help you arrive at the most satisfactory resolution of your divorce.