I Was Served
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Were You Served with Papers?

You were served with divorce or paternity papers.  There’s probably a lot going through your mind.  If this came out of the blue, you may be in a state of shock.  Even if you thought it may be coming, to actually have someone hand you the paperwork, and tell you that you have 20 days to file a response in Court, makes everything feel so bizarre.  In either event, this article is here to help you.  We’re going to walk you through the process step-by-step.  We’re going to give you concrete advice on what to do.  We’re going to give you an action plan.  So let’s dive right into it.

STEP ONE–  TAKE A DEEP BREATH


 

That’s right–  I want you to take a moment and calm down.  If you’re anxious or emotional or feeling numb or embarrassed or mad (all perfectly normal and common responses), then you’re human.  It is okay to feel that way.  But for us to deal with this problem, we need to take a step away and calm down.  And that’s exactly what it is–  it’s a problem.  And problems can be solved.  They don’t need to be overwhelming.  They don’t need to be debilitating.  But they do need to be addressed.

 

You may want to call a friend or relative.  You may want to keep things to yourself for now.  Either way is fine.  But don’t do anything rash.  Don’t storm off to confront your spouse.  Don’t put anything in writing—or say anything—that you may regret.  Be very careful about what you put in an email, text message, on Facebook, in a letter, or in a tweet.  

Being sued (for anything) is right up at the top of the list of major stressful events in your life.  So is the loss of a significant relationship.  But divorce is really a combination of both of those major stressors.  This could be one of the most stressful and important times in your entire life.  Take a deep breath, and let’s get to work…

 

STEP TWO–  CALCULATE AND WRITE DOWN THE DUE DATE


 

You have 20 calendar days (NOT business days) from the day you were served to file a written response with the Court.  Depending on the situation, a written response may be one of many things, including, a Motion to Dismiss, an Answer, an Answer and Counter-Petition, a Motion for Change of Venue, or a Motion for More Definite Statement.  The tricky part is determining the proper response.

 

But don’t get too much in the weeds as to what exactly the response should be.  For right now, I want you to calculate and write down the due date for your response to the lawsuit papers.  

The day you were served does not count as the first day out of twenty.  The day AFTER you were served counts as “Day One” out of your twenty days.  For example, let’s say you were served on Tuesday the 5th.  Day One is Wednesday the 6th, Day Two is Thursday the 7th, and so on until your Due Date, which is Day Twenty in our example:  the 25th of that month.

 

If your Due Date is on a Saturday, Sunday, or official holiday when court is closed, then your Due Date moves to the very next business day.  For example, if your Due Date falls on Saturday, your Due Date is extended to the following Monday.  If your Due Date falls on a Sunday, your Due Date is extended to the next day, which is Monday.  If your Due Date falls on Thanksgiving (which is on a Thursday), your Due Date is extended to the next day, which is Friday.

 

If you cannot remember when you were served, the person who served you (the process server) should have written down the date you were served on the first page of the packet.  That page should say the word “SUMMONS” on it about 1/3 of the way down from the top.

 

Now, once you know your Due Date, write it down.  Write it down in more than one place.  Put it on your calendar.  

 

Next, I want you to write down a reminder to yourself 3 or 4 days before the Due Date.  Put that on your calendar, too.  Set a reminder on your computer or phone.  The reason for the reminder: is it is a warning that the actual Due Date will only be a few days later.  

Do not ignore your Due Date.  If you ignore your Due Date, your ex could continue the case without your participation.  That could mean they get everything they want.  So, calculate and write down that due date!

 

STEP THREE–  READ THE PAPERWORK THAT WAS SERVED ON YOU


 

Now, I want you to read the paperwork that was served on you.  I don’t expect you to understand all of it.  Most of it is written in legalese.  But I want you to read it to get a feel for what it means and what your ex is asking for.  You may find some things in the paperwork that are not true.  You may find your spouse or ex is asking for everything in the world.  If you’d like to take notes, that’s a great idea.  Please write your notes down on a separate piece of paper.  I’d like you to get in the habit of not writing on the legal papers.  You may need to use them later in court, and your notes should remain private notes just for you.  So make your notes on a separate sheet of paper, or on a photocopy of the original.  

 

Below are some of the things that may or may not be in the packet of papers.  Not everything is required to be served on you in the beginning.  Some things must be in the packet, and we’ll talk about them first.  Then we’ll talk about some of the optional things that may or may not be in the packet.

 

What you should definitely find in your packet:

 

Summons  this is the document that informs you that you have been sued for divorce or paternity and gives you the case number for your case, where the courthouse is located, and the name of your spouse’s attorney.  The process server should have handwritten the date you were served on the first page of the Summons.

 

Petition for Dissolution  this is the document that begins the divorce or paternity process and lists what your ex is requesting.  You may see that some of the requests are vague, such as “equitable distribution of the marital assets and debts.”  Vague statements are pretty common.  Your response that is due on the Due Date is your response to the Petition for Dissolution or Petition to Determine Paternity.

 

Things that may or may not be in your packet:

 

Motion for Temporary Relief  if you have one of these, it is a big deal.  This is where your spouse or ex can request you be forced out of the house, or pay them alimony, child support, and their legal fees.  This document can also request they get temporary custody of the children (or that your spouse receive the majority of the timesharing, as it is now called).  

 

Notice of Social Security Number  this provides the court system with your ex’s Social Security Number, and those of any children you have together.  This is used for child support and/or alimony purposes.

 

Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act Affidavit  this document states (according to your spouse or ex) the names and dates of birth of your children and where they have lived, and with whom, for the last 5 years.  This document should also state whether the children are subject to any existing court cases or court orders, including pre-existing child support orders.

 

Standing Notice or Standing Order  this document is a set of rules for the case.  It may tell you not to call the judge’s office asking for legal advice, and it may tell you that you cannot hide or transfer or sell any assets.  Make sure you obey what it says.  If you have questions about what you can and cannot do, consult with Board Certified family law and divorce attorney Charles D. Radeline.

 

Notice of Related Cases  this document lets the court know if there are any related cases that are pending, such as child support, custody, or dependency cases regarding your children.

 

Financial Affidavit  this document should list out in great detail the other party’s income, expenses, assets, and debts.  Eventually, you will be required to file your own Financial Affidavit.  You may see inaccuracies in your spouse’s Financial Affidavit.  Take notes on a separate sheet of paper.

 

Demand for Compliance with Mandatory Disclosure  this is a document that puts you on notice that you are required to serve your spouse or ex with a number of mostly financial documents, including tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements, and credit card statements.  Don’t stress too much over it–  you have more than 20 days to compile this information.

 

Request for Production  this is a list of documents that your spouse or ex is requesting from you.  There may be some overlap between this document and the Demand for Compliance with Mandatory Disclosure.  Some of what is requested may be legally irrelevant and you may not have to provide it.  You should consult with an experienced divorce attorney like Mr. Radeline regarding this.  Don’t worry–  if you were served with this together with the Summons, you usually have 45 days to respond to the Request for Production, regardless of what it says on the document (they sometimes erroneously say 30 days instead of 45 days).

 

Interrogatories  these are a series of written questions that you must answer under oath and in writing.  Some of what is requested may be legally irrelevant and you may not have to answer particular questions.  You should consult with an experienced divorce attorney at our office regarding this.  Don’t worry–  if you were served with this together with the Summons, you usually have 45 days to respond answer the Interrogatories, regardless of what it says on the document (they sometimes erroneously say 30 days instead of 45 days).

 

Request for Admissions  there are a series of statements that you either need to admit are true, or deny that they are true.  Some of what is asked may be legally improper and you may not have to answer particular statements and can instead object.  You should consult with an experienced divorce attorney regarding this.  Don’t worry–  if you were served with this along with the Summons, you usually have 45 days to respond answer the Request for Admissions, regardless of what it says on the document (they sometimes erroneously say 30 days instead of 45 days).  Note:  Unlike the Request for Production and Interrogatories, it is absolutely crucial that the Request for Admissions be answered on time.  If they were served at some other time other than with the Summons, you only have 30 days to answer them.

 

Notice of Case Management Conference  some courts (most notably, Hillsborough County) issue a Notice of Case Management Conference.  If you have been served with this, it will have a court date, time, and place listed on it.  Write down this date and put it on your calendar.  You MUST attend this court date.  If you hire Mr. Radeline, we may be able to reschedule this court date if it does not work for you.  You may also see a list of documents that must be filed and served in advance of the court date.  Make note of these documents, and consult our office for more information.

 

STEP FOUR–  MEET WITH A BOARD CERTIFIED DIVORCE AND FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY TO FILE YOUR RESPONSE


 

Make an appointment to discuss your case with Mr. Radeline, who is Board Certified in Marital and Family Law.  Board Certification in this specialty is a distinction bestowed by the Florida Bar on less than 1% of Florida attorneys, and it means Mr. Radeline is an expert in your case. Our office offers appointments in-person, by telephone, or by videoconferencing.

 

It is best if you make your appointment sooner rather than later.  If necessary, we can usually answer the divorce paperwork as late as the Due Date.  But it is best to plan early.  (Of course, we can also try to fix things if it is already AFTER the Due Date.  But that is another story).

 

No matter who you speak with, make sure it is an experienced and Board Certified attorney.  Ask about where they went to law school.  Ask if the lawyer graduated with honors.  Ask if the lawyer in the advertisement will be personally handling your case.  Ask who will answer your questions when you call.  Ask how long they’ve been an attorney.  Ask how many divorce and family law cases they have handled.  Ask why they aren’t Board Certified if they claim they are so experienced.

 

Mr. Radeline personally handles every case in our office.  He is an honors graduate of the University of Florida (1997), and an honors graduate of the University of Florida College of Law (2001).  For years, the University of Florida has been ranked as the #1 law school in the state.  Mr. Radeline has been practicing law in Florida for over 20 years, and he passed the Florida Bar Exam on his first attempt in 2001.  Mr. Radeline has been declared an expert in Marital and Family Law and is Board Certified by the Florida Bar Board of Legal Specialization & Education.  This is a distinction bestowed on less than one percent of all Florida attorneys.  Board Certification is only awarded to those who have passed extensive peer and judicial review, have had substantial involvement in complex marital and family law cases, have extensive trial experience, and have passed an all-day written examination.

 

Mr. Radeline also holds the highest possible rating–  AV Preeminent® – from Martindale-Hubbell for the highest level of both ethical standards and legal ability.  Martindale-Hubbell has objectively rated attorneys since 1896, and the rating is a reflection of Mr. Radeline’s legal knowledge, analytical capabilities, judgment, communication skills, legal experience, integrity, and overall professional excellence as reported by judges and other attorneys.

 

He has handled thousands of divorce and family law matters in a number of counties across the state.  Mr. Radeline has absolutely no history of discipline with the Florida Bar.  Mr. Radeline held the prestigious position of Adjunct Professor of Law at St. Petersburg College for over a decade.  When you retain the firm, Mr. Radeline is your contact person.  When you have a question, he will answer it.  You will have his email address.  He will be responsible for all aspects of your case.  By the way, Mr. Radeline personally wrote every word of every article on this website.  He did it because he wants you to be informed.  He wants you to have the knowledge you need to have the best possible outcome in your case.

 

During your consultation with Mr. Radeline, he will hear your side of the story, will answer your questions, will discuss options if you want to hire him, and will give you a concrete action plan for what to expect and what to do next.  You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.  Contact us right now to schedule your consultation.

FAQ

 

 

I got served with court papers.  

Take a deep breath.  If you are reading the FAQ first, you should stop and begin at the top of this page.  Read the 4 Step Action Plan.  We’ll take you through everything you need to do.

 

How do I answer divorce or paternity papers.

If you have been served with divorce or paternity papers, begin by reading our 4 Step Action Plan.

 

Do I need to hire a lawyer for my divorce or family law case?

No, you could handle the case yourself if you absolutely have no other choice.  That is called being pro se.  But that is no badge of honor.  If finances are a concern, we offer a number of lower cost services for those who cannot afford full representation.  We can even just prepare your response to the lawsuit papers if that is all you need right now.  

 

When is the response to the divorce papers due?

It is due 20 days after you were served with the papers.  And it is 20 calendar days, not 20 business days.  Make sure you read our 4 Step Action Plan.  Step 2 is all about how to calculate the Due Date.  It is very important you do not miss the Due Date.

 

Should I talk to my spouse to work this out?

While we are all for amicable resolutions, nothing your spouse says can erase the need for you to file a response to the divorce papers within 20 days.  And if your spouse just had you served with divorce papers, they may use anything you say to them against you.  I strongly recommend you talk to us first.  Your spouse just sued you—this is serious business.

Can I do my divorce or paternity case without a lawyer?

No, you could handle the case yourself if you absolutely have no other choice.  That is called being pro se.  But that is no badge of honor.  If finances are a concern, we offer a number of lower cost services for those who cannot afford full representation.  We can even just prepare your response to the lawsuit papers if that is all you need right now. 

 

How long does divorce take?

That’s a great question, with a not-so-great answer.  It really depends on a number of circumstances.  There is no accurate way to forecast it if you just got served.  If things go quickly, the case can be over in as little as 4 to 8 weeks.  Otherwise, plan on several months, and maybe longer.  We can discuss this with you in detail during our consultation.

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