1. See an Attorney immediately!
If your spouse has taken the steps to hire an attorney and have you served with divorce papers they are very serious about getting a divorce and you need to make sure you understand your rights and your obligations. One of the first things you need to know is that you must normally file a response to the papers you were served with within 20 days of being served. If you do not then you could forfeit some of your rights.
What are these papers I was served with?
You should have been served with a Summons and Complaint. A summons is a legal document which explains your obligations upon being served. The Complaint is the formal legal document which is filed at the court house and begins the divorce suit. The Complaint will usually state the legal foundation for the court having jurisdiction and venue over the case and spells out what your spouse is asking for in the divorce. You may be served with additional papers depending on the specific facts and circumstances of your case. These other papers may include an emergency order granting temporary custody of your children to your spouse until there can be a hearing. Whatever you have been served with it is important that you go see an attorney immediately so that you can have a better understanding of your legal rights and obligations. Normally you will receive a free initial consultation from an attorney where you can get some of your questions answered.
2. Begin to gather all helpful information.
This will include your financial information including bank statements, deeds, titles, pay stubs, retirement account info, loan information,ect. This information will be helpful to determine what your assets and debts are and how they will be divided. As well as to determine the need for any spousal support and other issues.
Medical records for you and your children.
School records including report cards and attendance sheets.
Pictures with you and the children.
Any other documents that might help show your involvement with the children and your fitness as a parent.
3. Do not try and keep the children from your spouse.
If you have children and there is no history or fear of abuse or violence then you will want to make sure you do not attempt to keep your children from your spouse. The court does not look favorably on this and usually will hold it against you in making a final custody determination. The judge will want to grant custody to the parent who will make sure the children maintain a good relationship with the other parent and will be reasonable with regards to visitation. If there has been abuse or violence or you have a real fear of physical harm then you will want to seek a restraining order or an order of protection immediately. Without either a restraining order or order of protection or some other court order to the contrary you will not have a legal right to prevent your spouse from seeing the children. On the same side of the coin your spouse cannot keep you from seeing the children.
4. Do not involve the children in the conflict.
Judges do not look favorably on this either. The younger the children the worse it looks. More importantly it is not healthy for you children to be involved in grown up discussions or arguments or to feel like they must choose between parents. All discussions about the divorce should be between you and your spouse and had out of the hearing and presence of the children. The judge will likely instruct both you and your spouse that your children should never hear any negative remarks from either of you about the other.
5. Do not do anything that could later hurt your case.
These include all of the following and many more too numerous to list:
a. Any domestic dispute whatsoever. Never put yourself in a position where the police are called because of your actions. If you cannot control your temper walk away before it gets that far.
b. Being charged with any kind of crime. You do not even need to be convicted for it to have a possible negative effect. Stay out of trouble!
c. Receive certain types of traffic violations such as speeding, careless driving, failure to have your child in a car seat, DWI, ect
d. Admit to your spouse (in person or over the phone) that you have any sort of trouble, problem, or issue that could negatively impact your case. You never know when they are recording the conversation!
e. Post things on the Internet, including facebook, myspace, personal web page, blog ect. that could negatively impact your case. Pictures of you drinking, drunk, partying, or messages that talk about such things or include inappropriate language ect.
f. Get involved with someone else romantically. In most cases the judge will frown on any relationship while you are still married even though your divorce is still pending. This will hurt your chances of getting custody. Moving in with someone else is especially bad.
6. Keep a journal or record of events.
Write about all of your activities and phone calls with the children including dates and times.
Write down any and all refusals by your spouse to see or talk to the kids.
Write down anything that you think might be helpful to your case including observations and conversations including dates and times.
7. Be civil and put your children's needs first.
Divorce and custody proceedings can be very expensive. Anything you can agree on will save you money, time, and frustration. If you agitate your spouse they may dig in their heels just to be spiteful and that will end up costing you money. Being civil will help you get what you want and get it faster.
It is always difficult for children and so often we as attorneys see parents who make decisions based on selfish motivations and not what is in the best interests of their children. Usually those decisions come up in court and they turn against you in the eyes of the judge.