You’ve Been Served… Divorce Papers

September 19, 2016

I spend at least half of my time talking clients down from a frenzied panic after they are served with their divorce papers. The situation is already super emotionally charged and you are entering into unfamiliar territory with strange legal lingo and formal procedures you thought only happened in movies. It’s understandable that receiving these papers may trigger your defenses but STOP! This only leads to unwarranted anger, confrontation, and suspicion, which translate to unnecessary opposition and pricey legal fees.

If you knew the divorce was coming, especially if you have been at least somewhat civil, then it is unlikely that your spouse is trying to screw you right out of the gate. It’s that fear of the unknown, the hurt of the situation, and the resentment toward your spouse that keeps you on guard. Here are three of the triggers that drive your defensiveness and why they are not as they seem.

The Restraining Order. Gasp! Your spouse sends your divorce papers and hits you with a restraining order. Before even reading the contents of the paper you are livid and confused. No worries. This is not your typical restraining order. This form is standard. Everyone getting a divorce in Arkansas will receive it. The reason you receive this form is because once the court gets your case you can’t sell or remove real or personal marital property without consent of the court. I hate the name of this document for obvious reasons but they don’t let me make up names for this stuff. Anyhow, you are “restrained” from removing marital property from the marital estate during your divorce and this is how they inform you of that.

The Rogue Petition. The petition is the document asking the court to grant your divorce. This petition is usually general, containing very few details and just filled with the most basic statements required to request a divorce in Arkansas. Where are all of the things you and your spouse agreed to? What is your spouse trying to hide? Likely, nothing. Divorce lawyers use standard petitions for most all of their divorce cases, just change a name here and date there. Your details are reserved for the Decree of Divorce. This document is the final document in your divorce and will be what the judge signs to grant your divorce. Sometimes that petition includes additional requests that are totally opposite from what you have agreed upon with your spouse. More often than not this happens because either the lawyer forgot to remove those provisions or s/he is asking for everything possible to reserve room for negotiation just in case. Why would a lawyer not explain any of these common points of contention in your otherwise peaceful divorce? I’m sure the lawyer’s up to $375 per billable hour fee is not an incentive to throw some doubt and overzealous requests into the mix. Bottom line, if you’ve agreed to no spousal support or joint custody then give your spouse the benefit of doubt the agreement still stands until proven otherwise.

The Attorney’s Fees. What?! Does your spouse really expect you to pay for their legal fees in addition to yours, especially since s/he wanted the divorce? Maddening, I know. The good news is that divorce lawyers always throw this into their requests because lawyers should ask the court for every possible remedy for their client. Are they going to be awarded attorneys fees in your divorce? Without some compelling reason why this is justified or strong argument that your actions or inactions caused your spouse unnecessary legal fees, then no.

Don’t get caught up in hype that divorce has to be messy and expensive. It doesn’t. Am I saying to just give your spouse full trust that your agreement will move forward as planned and hope for the best? Absolutely not! You have 30 days after you receive the papers to file an answer. If you don’t do so within that time you lose your right to respond and your spouse can move forward and ask for whatever they want as long as the judge agrees. Even if you are working through it together, you should strongly consider getting your response in to protect your rights. Filing a response protects you but in no way means that you can’t still pursue an agreement or that you are doomed for a long and lengthy court battle.

AVL advocates for peaceful divorces and works to educate people divorcing in Arkansas on their rights and the whole legal process. Save money and avoid drama here.