What to Do After Being Served with Divorce Papers (and what not to do)

Being served with divorce papers can be an upsetting and stressful event for many people.  However, it is important to handles the situation properly so as to avoid harm to one’s custody and property rights.

Divorce cases begin with the serving of certain legal documents upon the spouse who did not file for divorce.  In Illinois, the Petition for Dissolution and Summons are the main documents that are served, while in Iowa those documents are the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and Original Notice.  Often, other documents such as an Application for Temporary Matters or an Injunction order are also served.  Regardless of what papers the Sheriff or private process server delivers, it can shock many people when they are served with divorce papers from their spouse.

What do do when served with Divorce papers

A person who is served with divorce papers should take a deep breath and remember that like all legal cases, divorce cases are not something that is handled in a day.  There is (in most cases) no dire emergency that must be handled within a few minutes, so there is likely plenty of time to pause for a moment.  Then, consult with an attorney who handles divorce cases, as your spouse already has a (slight) advantage from having already retained an attorney and started the divorce case on their own time.

In cases where there are immediate pending issues, such as emergency child custody concerns, parental kidnapping/abuse issues, domestic violence, or other such problems, the advice to remain calm remains the same.  The advice to promptly seek a divorce attorney also remains the same, just with more urgency.

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What not to do when served with Divorce papers

Just as important than what a person does when served with divorce papers is what a person doesn’t do.  That is because taking rash action when feeling the (often quite understandable) emotions that accompany receiving divorce papers can cause great harm to the person’s prospects in the divorce case.  Examples of some of the actions not to take in most cases are show below:

1. Don’t threaten or hit your spouse. I know it seems obvious, but domestic battery incidents happen regularly when people are served with divorce papers.  At best, committing a domestic battery will cause animosity in the divorce case and make it more unpleasant than it needed to be.  Criminal charges are also a possibility.  In cases where the custody of children are at issue, a person who batters their spouse in Illinois or Iowa will find themselves at a distinct disadvantage.

2. Don’t empty out marital bank accounts (in most cases).  Often (but not always) it is not viewed favorably by the court when a spouse empties out marital bank accounts or spends large sums of money on credit cards unnecessarily.  Doing so can result in the court taking action against the person who is expending or concealing marital funds.  It is not uncommon for the Illinois Circuit Court or Iowa District Court to grant an injunction in such cases.

3. Don’t cancel your spouse’s health insurance.  Generally speaking, spouses owe each other a duty of support, even when a divorce case has been filed.  A person who cancels their spouses health insurance will often be liable for medical expenses that would have been covered by the health insurance.  Courts take a very dim view of such health insurance cancellation.

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4. Don’t put the children in the middle.  Both Iowa and Illinois law are clear on the point that parents are not to put their children in the middle of their divorce or custody disputes, as doing so is quite harmful to the children.  A parent who does so can greatly harm their chances of getting the custody resolution that they want.

5. Don’t go post about it on facebook.  Often, people will make statements on social media that cause problems down the road in the divorce case.  In many of the Illinois and Iowa divorces that I handle, facebook and other social media posts play an important role, and it is best to avoid such posts as they do nothing to help the divorce case but can certainly hurt the client’s interests.

The most important thing to remember when served with divorce papers

Divorce cases can be some of the most emotion experiences for a person, and so it is not uncommon for a person going through a divorce case to take actions that are less than ideal.  However, handling a divorce case in the most intelligent manner possible can go a long way towards getting the most favorable outcome and minimizing any unpleasantness.  It is not possible to enumerate every action that is wise or unwise to take in this or any legal blog article, and as such a person who has been served with divorce papers is well advised to refrain from taking any action until they have consulted with an attorney.