With the New Year and many Tampa and Wesley Chapel families receiving their tax refund, many Wesley Chapel divorce attorneys are preparing for the seasonal rush of divorce clients.   Without fail, in March and April every year our family law practice receives a surge of requests for free divorce consultations.  If your spouse files for divorce and you find yourself on the receiving end of divorce papers, here are quick 8 steps on what to do next:

  1. Remain Calm and Respond: You were served with a request for a Florida divorce.  You were hand delivered Summons, a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and other divorce forms.  The Summons states that you have 20 days to respond.  This is 20 calendar days … not 20 work days.   Under Florida divorce laws, you have 20 days to respond.  If you were served before 6 p.m., then the day you were served counts as day 1 of 20.
  2. Do Not Think the Worst: You have read the Petition drafted by your spouse’s divorce attorney.  Do not panic.  It is customary for divorce attorneys to ask for everything.  This does not mean the divorce court will award your Husband or Wife everything they requested.  Stay calm, but understand that it is time to speak to a divorce lawyer.
  3. Be Realistic: At this point your spouse has sought legal advice, hired a Florida divorce lawyer, paid a fee and decided to move forward with filing for divorce.  You are experiencing a wide array of emotions.  Do not do anything that can damage your case.  Do not repeatedly call your spouse.  Do not react in a way that will cause your spouse to call the police.  In fact, do not contact your spouse at all.  Your spouse has gone this far – it is doubtful you are going to change his/her mind.  If there is a chance for reconciliation, pursue that avenue after speaking with your family law lawyer first.
  4. Gather Information: Gather whatever financial records are available to you.  This includes bank statements, retirement account statements, and evidence of parenting (pictures of you and the children, etc.).  The documents will enable the divorce attorney to get an idea of what is at stake.  In turn, this will help you obtain more information at the free divorce consultation.
  5. Protect Monetary Interests: This may be the time to secure your funds in a personal account rather than keeping funds in a joint account.  Ideally both parties should maintain the status quo, but know that a bank is unable to stop either spouse from withdrawing all the money in a joint account.
  6. Protect Children: If your Florida divorce involves children, protect them as much as you can.  They are the innocent victims who are now tasked with dealing with their parents’ problems.  Do not involve them in the divorce.  Do not use them for information and do not ask them to pick sides.  Harbor your emotions when around the children and do not speak of your spouse in a derogatory manner.
  7. Follow Timelines: As stated above in #1, you have 20 calendar days to respond to the divorce.  This does not mean drafting a letter to send to the Judge stating all the things your spouse has done wrong.  You need to seek legal counsel and draft a legal response and most likely a Counterpetition for Dissolution of Marriage.   If your case was filed in Tampa or Hillsborough County, you typically are automatically scheduled to appear at a Case Management Conference.  In most cases, this date is about 90 days after the date the divorce case is opened.  Make sure you are available to appear in Court on this date.
  8. Get Sound Legal Advice: Schedule a consultation with a Tampa divorce attorney.  Choose a divorce lawyer that possesses the tools and experience your divorce needs.  Some cases are more difficult and complex than others.  By speaking to more than one lawyer, you will find a wide range of price structures, backgrounds, experience and personalities.  It is important that you find a lawyer that you work well with.

If you have any questions about what to do when served with Florida divorce papers or if you would like to speak to us about your options, please contact North Tampa Law Group at (813) 518-7411 or complete a free online case evaluation. We represent clients during stressful and difficult times in their lives. We are empathetic, responsive, and push for a quick resolution. We look forward to helping you resolve your issue quickly, fairly, and in a way that will help you to return to the stable, predictable life that you deserve.