This is not going to be a good day. You were at home or work, and you just got served with divorce papers.
Like most people, you’re wondering what you need to do to protect yourself, your assets, and your children.
One thing to note is that the moment you were handed those documents by a sheriff or process server (or signed an Entry of Appearance and Waiver of Service), a thirty (30) day clock has started, and you must submit responsive pleadings before that clock runs out.
This is not the time to bury your head in the sand or ignore it.
Even if you are holding out hope that you will be able to reconcile, you MUST file something to avoid what is called a “Default Judgment” against you.
A Default Judgement is when a party fails to respond to the Petition for Dissolution in the appropriate time-frame, which is thirty (30) days in Missouri.
The attorney for the other party will file a Motion for Default Judgment setting with the Court, alleging that you have chosen to not participate in these proceedings, and therefore the Court should just give their client what they are asking for.
For most people, this is the worst-case scenario and one that can be easily avoided if you are proactive.
Default Judgements can issue Orders for how the assets and debts are divided, child custody, a parenting plan, child support, and maintenance (the term Missouri uses for alimony). If you have nothing on file, the Court assumes that your spouse is fully disclosing everything and will issue Orders against you.
The first thing you need to do is contact a local divorce attorney.
Most good family law attorneys will not be able to get you in the next day, so do not wait until the 30 days is almost up to start making calls.
Start the next day after you were served.
You will need to file documents of your own. These include, at the very least, an Answer to the Petition for Dissolution, and in most cases, financial statements (see Missouri Divorce Forms and Documents here) and a Counter-Petition for Dissolution.
So long as those are on file, there is not going to be a default Judgment taken against you.
The Answer to the Petition for Dissolution is simple enough.
You go through the paragraphs and admit or deny the allegations that were made by your spouse. If anything made in the numbered paragraph is wrong, deny the whole thing.
This means that the opposing party must prove the allegation in Court. Anything you “Admit” to will be assumed to be true, and little if any focus will be spent on trying to prove that allegation.
The reality is that contested divorce matters are hard, complicated, and can destroy people if they are not protected.
At the very least, you need to speak with a divorce lawyer to discuss your rights and get assistance with filing your own documents if you cannot afford an attorney.
That being said, you need an attorney, even if you have to borrow money to pay for one (most also take credit cards, and while not ideal, may be an option).
I know it is expensive, but having a dedicated and experienced family law attorney is worth it when there are contested matters/issues.
There is also a possibility that your attorney will ask that your spouse pay (or repay) for your attorney fees.
It is the job of the attorney to get everything they can for their client, and not responding or going in without knowledgeable representation will hurt you in the long run.
You need to take quick and swift action to ensure that you, your assets (including retirement), and your children are protected.
Contact Haefner Law Office at (314) 200-6101, and set up your free 30 minute phone consultation with a dedicated family law attorney to discuss your case, get some guidance, and see if we are the right fit for you.
It may just be the most important call you ever make. All we do at Haefner Law Office is family law, and we know how to protect you. You do not need to do this alone.