HELP! I've Been Served With Divorce Papers! What do I do?!?!

The first thing is do not panic.  Only slightly behind that in priority is do not do anything stupid.  Now is not the time to act out your personal revenge fantasies.  As a divorce and child custody lawyer in Western Kentucky and Southern Illinois, I have seen a lot of otherwise intelligent people do a lot of stupid things; everything from sugar in gas tanks to attempting to abduct the children.

If your spouse has filed for divorce (or your former paramour has filed for custody) and you have been served, it is important that you obtain legal counsel as soon as possible.  There are several reasons for this.  First and foremost, is to avoid a default judgment.  A default judgment can occur in a civil case where the responding/defending party just simply ignores the action that was filed and fails to do anything in a timely manner.  You normally have 20-30 days to respond to being served depending on if you live in Kentucky or Illinois (other jurisdictions may have different rules and I'm not getting into that YMMV).  If you fail to file an answer or a response, the person who filed the action can go to court and get a judgment for basically everything for which they are asking.  If you file an answer, you have to receive notice of any such hearings so that you can contest it.

It is also important to secure legal counsel so that you can pursue temporary custody and visitation actions as well as make arrangements for maintenance of certain expenses while the case is pending.  You might be able to work this out with your ex, but often it is easier to do between your attorneys because there are simply too many hard feelings.  Learn the phrase "Have your lawyer call my lawyer," and repeat it as necessary.  If your spouse files for temporary relief first, you may only have a few days to prepare.  An competent divorce attorney can help whip your case into shape for this abbreviated hearing much faster than you can on your own.  That does not mean you will not have work to do.  You will need to get your hands on as much information as you can to assist your counselor.  Any records related to the children such as school records, documentation of medical conditions, and some family photos are a must for temporary custody hearings.  Financial records, pay information, bank records and monthly expenses are required for temporary maintenance and debt allocation hearings.

Your divorce and child custody lawyer can advise you more specifically on what is needed.  But first thing is first, and the first thing you need in this situation is a good lawyer.

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