Your spouse has just told you that he/she wants a divorce. Chances are you are dealing with a whirlwind of emotions. On top of that you need to prepare yourself for what comes next in the legal divorce process. Here is an outline of what to expect after your spouse asks you for a divorce.
First off, there is usually no benefit to the other spouse if they file for divorce first. To initiate a divorce action, the party must pay an initial filing fee, typically around $400. Sometimes if the parties are able to settle the matter, one spouse can submit all of the paperwork and save the other spouse from having to also pay a filing fee. However, in the future, if the other spouse wishes to bring a post decree motion, they would have to pay the initial filing fee at that time.
Even if your spouse files for divorce first, you still will have the opportunity to respond and tell the court what you want in your Answer and Counter Petition. Your spouse doesn’t have a stronger legal argument simply because they filed for divorce.
However, if you live in a different county than your spouse (or a different state) be aware that if your spouse initiates the action, they can choose where the divorce will take place. You can petition the court to change the venue, but this is usually a hard sell for the court unless you have a really good reason to move where the case will be heard.
You will have 30 days to answer the divorce paperwork. If you have been personally served (i.e. someone other than your spouse hands you the divorce papers) then you have 30 days from that date to respond with your answer and counter petition. Oftentimes if it appears that the parties may be able to reach a settlement, the initiating party will grant the other party an indefinite extension to answer, meaning they don’t have to file an answer within the 30 days. However, if the matter goes to trial, then an answer should definitely be filed.
You must either be personally served or sign an admission of service. Either a person other than your spouse has to hand you the divorce paperwork or you must sign and notarize a statement that says you received the paperwork. If neither of these things happens, you have not been properly served and your spouse cannot file for divorce. However, if you have not been served because your spouse cannot find you or you are avoiding service, your spouse can ask the court to service you via alternative means. In other words, they can request to serve you via mail or by publication. Service by publication means that they send a notice in the newspaper. Service by alternative means will start the time clock of 30 days for you to answer.
If you do not answer and do not respond to the divorce paperwork, your spouse can default you, meaning that they can ask the judge to grant them divorce pursuant to their requested terms. So pay attention and if you get served with divorce paperwork, consult with an attorney to make sure that you are protected going forward.