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You Have Been Served: The Do’s and Don’ts of Divorce Papers

Updated: Jul 27, 2021

You may be sitting at your desk at work, or watching television at home, but no matter what you are doing, nothing quite prepares you for that moment when someone unexpectedly hands you an envelope and says those four dreaded words, “You have been served.”

Some of the basic information in a summons should reveal the following: 1) a case exists, 2) the particulars of that case and, 3) your responsibilities as the “defendant” in the case. If a court hearing has been scheduled, the notice should also contain the date and location of where that court hearing will be held.

There are many reasons for divorce, and there are also many ways to be served a court summons. No matter the method that you receive a notice stating your spouse has filed for divorce, managing your feelings and figuring out your next steps legally should be among your top priorities.

DO Have A Good Cry: Even if divorce has been discussed with your spouse, or you have already physically separated, the swirl of emotions that you can experience once you receive a legal document informing you of a request for the dissolution of your marriage can be overwhelming to say the least. These emotions can include shock, anger, fear, embarrassment, shame, and rage. Before you act, it is important that you feel your feelings — just do it away from your spouse. Crying has many physical benefits, and the release can help you to begin to focus on the next steps of the divorce process.

DO Tell Someone: You can tell a family member, a trusted friend, colleague, therapist, or life-coach, but it is important that you share this news with at least one person who is supportive of you, and is committed to helping you deal with the process in which you are about to engage. You may also need to ask them for a referral to a family law attorney. While the Internet can be a great resource, a referral from someone who understands your personal situation can make all the difference in finding an attorney early on who can effectively advocate for you during your journey.

DO Review Your Document For Accuracy: Many attorneys charge an initial consultation fee, and being prepared for your meetings is essential. Once you have recovered from the initial shock, you do need to read the document and review the claims in the motion. Is basic information such as your address, the date of the marriage, and the ages of your children accurate? Is your spouse making claims or demands that will need to be explored in your initial meetings as you vet attorneys? Make a list of the issues that need to be addressed, and include questions you have based on what is stated in the document so you are spending your money wisely.

DO Schedule The Required Deadlines For Your Next Action Steps: It is most important to recognize that you have received a legal document, and there are action steps that will be required of you, and deadlines you will have to manage as the process moves forward. The court is going to keep track of the timeline as well so inaction is not an effective strategy. Try to schedule a meeting with at least one attorney as soon as possible, but at the very least, input the return date and other key dates on your calendar, and treat your divorce procedure as you would a business or doctor appointment. This step is crucial. When you are having conversations with individuals about referrals, they need to understand your sense of urgency so they can manage their responsiveness to your requests for assistance.

DON’T Engage Your Spouse Until You Have Calmed Down: As you are navigating the early stages of your divorce procedure along with the rest of your life, it is crucial that you manage your engagement with your spouse, especially if your interactions leading up to this moment have been high-conflict. While your ability to discuss the summons with your spouse may depend upon whether or not you are still living together or physically separated, you must realize that you are now in a legal process and you should not initiate or engage in confrontations that could jeopardize your position or cause your children additional distress. Regardless of your reasons for divorce, threats and attempts to intimidate your spouse will only make it more difficult for your attorney to advocate on your behalf. It is important to remember that a divorce process has many stages. While this is but one step in your divorce journey, your conduct in the early stages can impact you both emotionally and legally in the long run.

If you are contemplating divorce, or struggling with a high-conflict divorce procedure, let Tamara Harris, CEO of Tamara Harris LLC, be your partner as you navigate through each stage of your journey. As an impartial, experienced professional, Tamara will work directly with you to give you the best tools and strategies to manage the specific challenges and uncertainties of divorce. Serving as your Divorce Coach and advocate, she will help you see clearly during this time where emotions can often impede and derail your divorce procedure. While each member of your high-conflict divorce team – lawyers, accountants, financial advisors, and other experts – will be advising you, Tamara will help you to synthesize this information, think strategically about the options you have with clarity and purpose, and get your divorce across the finish line. Visit for more information, or contact Tamara Harris to discuss becoming a client. All inquires will be held in confidence.

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