You’ve Been Served… Now What? What You Don’t Do Now Can Hurt You
What You Don’t Do Now Can Hurt Your Case
There are many scary things in this world, but hearing a person you don’t know ask your name just before handing you a sealed envelope thick with documents ranks high on the list. This is especially true if you never expected to be served with divorce or custody papers. Many of our clients have been in this exact situation, and this article will explore available options to protect yourself when it feels like the rug has just been pulled from under your feet.
Speak with an Attorney As Soon As Possible
This is not the time to play “ostrich” and stick your head in the sand! Being served with court papers of any kind means a ball is rolling down a track. The clock has already started ticking on the deadlines prescribed by the law for you to respond. When it comes to being served in a family court action, it is crucial to speak with the most qualified attorney you can afford who practices exclusively in family court. Time matters, particularly early in the case. You don’t want to hurt your case by waiting too long to get proper advice and to file responsive pleadings (the papers your attorney will prepare for you to answer the allegations raised in the Complaint).
Therefore, it is important that you contact an attorney sooner rather than later because the more time you give your attorney, the more opportunity he has to advise you about all of your available options and help protect your interests. Keep in mind that just because your cousin’s wife is an attorney, if she’s not an experienced family law attorney practicing in your state, her advice might not be best for you in the long run. She may be unfamiliar with the family court rules, the local judges, and “how things are done” where you live. If she practices in another state, she may not be licensed to practice in South Carolina, and matrimonial law varies widely from state to state.
Start Collecting Information About Your Finances & Property
When you set up the appointment with the attorney, their office staff will ask you to bring a copy of all papers that were given to you when served. If it’s a large stack, ask if you can fax, email, or deliver the documents to the office before your appointment so the attorney will have a chance to review them prior to your meeting. This will ensure that valuable consultation time is spent advising you of your rights and obligations under the law, depending on what has been filed with the court. The attorney will also be able to give you a more accurate estimate of the costs for representation in your case, as well as things you should do on your own to protect those rights.
In a divorce case, information is your most powerful tool. Understanding your family’s finances is critical. It is essential for those who may not be intimately involved in financial matters to begin gathering documents immediately. Once you separate from your spouse, especially if you are not the spouse who keeps up with the financial matters, it will be much more challenging to access this information efficiently. Make copies of pay stubs, bank statements, retirement account statements, credit card statements, income tax returns, and anything else you think could be important later on. It’s much easier to begin gathering these types of documents early on rather than wait until the case is in full swing. If you have questions about what types of documents may be necessary, ask your attorney for a checklist of things to gather.
Don’t Put Your Children in the Middle
Though it may be difficult, you should resist the urge to pull your children into the middle of your separation or divorce. Do not vent your frustrations to them, and do not make negative or disparaging remarks to them about their parent. Divorce is already a difficult process for the whole family, and putting the children in the middle of things will only make it worse. Your job is to be there for emotional support for the kids, even when you may need the same support.
Your attorney will tell you that pitting the children against their other parent will never put you in a good light with the family court system, i.e., the judge, the Guardian ad Litem, or the attorneys, even when the other parent’s behavior is questionable, at best. If you believe your children may need additional emotional support during the separation and divorce, ask your attorney for recommendations of qualified, experienced therapists who specialize in working with divorced families. Putting your children’s needs above your own will rarely backfire on you in a family court case.
Ben Stevens has provided exceptional legal counsel and support to families throughout South Carolina for over twenty-five years, handling all matters of family law, such as child custody, child support, and divorce. He and his team are well-equipped to handle all divorce and family law matters, no matter your circumstances. Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to let us know how we can help you.
Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.
ABOUT J. BENJAMIN STEVENS
Ben.Stevens@offitkurman.com | 864.598.9172
Aggressive, creative, and compassionate are words Ben Stevens' colleagues freely use to describe him as a divorce and family law attorney. Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and is a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is one of only two attorneys in South Carolina with those simultaneous distinctions. He has held numerous leadership positions in the AAML, and he currently serves as one of its National Vice Presidents. Mr. Stevens has a statewide practice and regularly appears all across South Carolina. His practice is focused on complex divorce and child custody cases.
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ABOUT OFFIT KURMAN
Offit Kurman, one of the fastest-growing, full-service law firms in the United States, serves dynamic businesses, individuals and families. With 16 offices and nearly 250 lawyers who counsel clients across more than 30 areas of practice, Offit Kurman helps maximize and protect business value and personal wealth by providing innovative and entrepreneurial counsel that focuses on clients’ business objectives, interests and goals. The firm is distinguished by the quality, breadth and global reach of its legal services and a unique operational structure that encourages a culture of collaboration. For more information, visit www.offitkurman.com.
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