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Surprised by a divorce petition? Here's what to do next

You were by yourself at home when you heard your doorbell. You answered, and it was someone you didn't know. They handed you a document and said you were being served.

You weren't sure what that was about, so you quickly opened the mail and found that your spouse was seeking a divorce. You weren't sure why they had suddenly decided to do this, but since they had been away on business for a few weeks, you had some suspicions.

Now, you're not sure what you're supposed to do. It's a big shock.

Make sure you speak with someone about your response to the divorce petition right away

The first thing you should do is to reach out to an attorney for support. Your attorney will be able to talk to you about the contents of the divorce petition and if you do or don't agree with them.

You don't have children, but you do have a large number of assets. It's important that the divorce petition is carefully reviewed, so that you don't agree to your spouse's statements or terms without realizing it.

When you know what's included in the petition, prepare your response

In your petition, your spouse may have asked not to pay spousal support or stated how they'd like to divide your assets. If you don't agree with them, it's important that you respond to the petition with your own counterclaim.

In your counterclaim, you should tell the court and other party what you'd like instead. For example, you may want to file for spousal support of a few hundred dollars a month because of the discrepancy between your earnings and what you need to live comfortably. You may want to ask for assets that your spouse has not discussed in the temporary orders.

There will be time to negotiate with your spouse or to take the case to court and ask for what you want, but it is essential to respond to this initial paperwork. If you don't, the court could think that you were in agreement with the temporary orders that your spouse asked for.

Your attorney will talk you through each step of responding to the divorce petition. This is a new situation for you, so it makes sense if it's upsetting. Having the right support can make a difference in the outcome of your case, so it's a good idea to learn more right away.

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John T. Chamberlin, Attorney at Law
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