You and your spouse tried to work it out, but despite your best efforts, you couldn't — and now you have been served with divorce papers. The end of the marriage was stressful enough, but now you have to deal with the legal system in Franklin, Tennessee as well. You don't know what comes next — and this guide is for you. Here's what you need to do.
Note and Adhere to Deadlines
In the divorce petition package, there should be information about how long you have to file an Answer. The deadline varies from state to state, but in many cases, you are looking at 20-21 days. You do NOT want to miss this date. If you fail to respond to the divorce petition, the court will only have your spouse's version of events and what they are seeking in terms of finances, custody, support, and other matters. The court, having nothing else to rely on, will likely grant your spouse's petition. If you have a strong and legally justifiable reason for failing to file the Answer, you will have to bring a motion in court to explain. If the court is persuaded by your reasoning, it may set aside the default judgment and allow you to file your Answer by a certain date. Then, the divorce proceedings will move forward.
Separate and Track Your Finances and Financials
If you have joint accounts, it is a good idea to change the account so that both spouses have their own. Things can get heated, and in some cases, one spouse will want to unilaterally clean out the account. Even though this will be considered by the court when it comes to calculating how the marital property will be divided, it may leave one party in the lurch in the short term. Make sure you keep detailed financial records and gather up your past tax returns, proof of income, and information about all your assets. You do not want to be the one to hold up the divorce process because you need more time to gather the information the court wants.
Keep Being a Good Parent
Children tend to suffer the most when their parents divorce. They often feel that they are pawns in a hostile game between the parties. When assessing who should have custody and deciding on visitation time, the court will look at whether one parent has been trying to use the kids against the other parent. The court wants to know whether and to what extent the parties will be able to cooperate to raise the children properly. Aggression and disrespect from one spouse to another not only impact the well-being of the children but also send a bad message about that spouse to the court. So, try to stay impartial. Avoid talking about your spouse and their shortcomings in front of the kids. Even if they ask what is happening, frame your response in a way that doesn't pit the kids against either parent. Remind them that both parents love them and that will not change.
See a Divorce/Family Law Attorney
While it is possible to represent yourself in divorce proceedings, having a lawyer will make the process run more smoothly while ensuring that all your rights are protected. There are many ways a lawyer can help you when you divorce.
Attorneys who practice divorce/family law will be familiar with the deadlines and what information and support should appear in the documents you need to file. If you are a layperson, you may think you have addressed everything, only to find out later that you have missed something important in your filings. This could result in you not receiving something you are entitled to or delaying the process because you have to make a motion to change your materials or set another date to address the issue that was omitted. When a competent divorce/family lawyer drafts the materials, the documents provide all the information the court wants to — and should — consider and properly set out the issues that need to be settled. This allows the judge to focus on problems that need to be solved.
Settlement Agreement or Alternative Dispute Resolution
Ideally, if the parties are amicable, the two sides can sit down and work out the issues in a separation agreement that can be filed with the court. It saves both parties the time and expense of actual litigation, which can be very expensive, and protects both parties' interests. An attorney is helpful not only during the negotiation process but also when it comes to drafting the actual agreement — ensuring that all issues have been addressed fairly and that co-parenting and other matters can happen smoothly.
Negotiations can occur between the parties at mediation/arbitration, where lawyers can again make sure that all critical issues are on the table. Sometimes the parties can have a partial agreement — they agree on the division of property but not on custody/visitation, for example — which means that they will have to work out unresolved issues in court. Court hearings and trials have particular rules as to evidence, witnesses, and procedures, so having legal representation makes it much easier to navigate the legal system.
If you have been served with divorce papers in Franklin, Tennessee, make sure you know what your next steps are. Reach out to us and let us help you.