Jonathan Merel

HELP! I was served divorce papers, now what?

Being served divorce papers for some people can be a blessing while for others it is viewed similar to a nightmare.  Some may be expecting the papers while to others, it comes as a total shock. In either situation, if you have been served with divorce papers we are here to outline the common legal measures you need to take in order to prepare yourself for the best and worst.

For starters, in order to be officially served divorce papers a legally authorized individual in Illinois must serve them upon you; this is called service of process. Typically a county sheriff or an authorized private individual (special process server) will serve individuals with divorce papers (Petition for Dissolution of Marriage) along with a court Summons by simply handing the papers to you (or a member of your household).

Upon being served divorce papers, it would behoove you to hire an experienced family law attorney. Though it is not a requirement, it is highly recommended due to the complex nature of divorces in general. It is especially imperative to hire a family law attorney if your spouse hires one, as the success rate of pro se litigants (individuals representing themselves) against a licensed attorney is very low. Pro se litigants (although not licensed attorneys) are typically held to the same standard as lawyers, despite the fact that their knowledge of the law will pale in comparison to that of a practicing attorney.  Even minor mistakes can prove highly detrimental and have lasting effects, especially if child custody, visitation and/or alimony (maintenance) are involved. The average divorce requires the drafting of numerous legal documents which include but are not limited to: a summons, appearance, petitions or motions, marital settlement agreements and judgments for dissolution of marriage. If any of these are improper, the result can be devastating to the litigant.

Though we strongly recommend hiring a family law attorney, if you are certain you want to represent yourself (pro se) the best instance to do so would be for an uncontested case where both parties are on the same page with regard to every potential issue that may arise.  This in itself can be difficult as oftentimes pro se litigants are unaware of all issues that must be resolved in order to truly reach an agreement in a divorce matter.

If you are like the majority of litigants who decide to hire a family law attorney after you have been served divorce papers, it’s important to know that time is of the essence. As the Respondent (the party served with the divorce papers) in an Illinois divorce, you will have 30 days to file an Answer to the petition and file your Appearance.   Your attorney will handle all of the court filings, communication with the opposing counsel, collecting and presenting your financial information and advising you on the appropriate steps to take as your case proceeds.  Once you find an attorney you are comfortable with, many litigants feel like a weight has been lifted from their shoulders, as they have an experienced professional to advocate on their behalf.

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