How Long After Being Served Divorce Papers Do I Have to Respond?

divorce decree
May 8, 2024 | Content

Getting served with divorce papers can be a shock. Even when you know your spouse has filed for divorce, being served makes it all real.

You will need to respond to the court filing, and you must develop a strategy to meet your goals in the divorce. It is important to contact a family law attorney as soon as you receive service.

Service Ensures Both Parties Are Aware of the Proceeding

Some people have the perception that a divorce proceeding begins when one spouse—the petitioner—submits a divorce petition to the court. In fact, the proceeding begins when the other spouse—the respondent—receives official notice of the lawsuit. This happens when the respondent receives service of the summons, complaint, and supporting documents that the petitioner filed at the courthouse.

The Official Code of Georgia §9-11-4 describes how to ensure the respondent has official notice of the lawsuit. Someone, usually a sheriff or professional process server, must hand deliver the papers to the respondent. If the respondent resides in Georgia, the process server can leave the papers with any responsible person who lives at the respondent’s address.

When the spouses agree about getting a divorce and the timing, they may skip the official service of the divorce papers. The respondent can sign an acknowledgment stating they have received the divorce complaint and waive service. This option is faster and less expensive than hiring a process server to bring the papers to the respondent’s home.

 Service Starts the Clock

When a process server delivers the papers to the respondent’s residence, they file an affidavit with the court. The affidavit provides the date and time the respondent received the papers. When service is by acknowledgment, the acknowledgment form states the date the respondent received the papers.

The respondent has 30 days to file an answer, and the time begins on the day they receive service. It is critical for the respondent to consult an attorney immediately.

The answer is the formal response to the divorce complaint. If the respondent does not file an answer in time, the court can grant the petitioner a divorce and give them everything they asked for in their petition.

The Respondent’s Answer Sets the Parameters

The divorce petition asks for certain things, like a fair division of property and custody of the children. The answer responds to the petition by objecting to some or all of the petitioner’s demands and asserting the respondent’s demands. The answer also defines the issues the parties disagree about and must resolve to accomplish the divorce.

When the family court receives a respondent’s answer, it will schedule a hearing. The hearing will cover preliminary matters like setting a schedule for financial disclosure, deciding child custody and visitation while the divorce is pending, and awarding temporary alimony, if necessary.

The parties’ attorneys usually begin negotiations immediately. Depending on the jurisdiction, the court might schedule periodic status conferences or hearings. In most cases, negotiation leads to a settlement and the court issues the divorce decree and settlement as enforceable orders. In other cases, the court must hold a divorce trial and the judge must decide the outstanding issues.

Contact a Family Law Attorney When You Are Served With Divorce Papers

You have only 30 days to file an answer after being served with divorce papers. The answer establishes the issues in dispute, so it is important to draft it carefully and strategically.

When you are served with divorce papers, contact a local family lawyer immediately. It is important to give yourself and your attorney plenty of time to develop a plan to meet your goals in the divorce. Get started by reaching out to the Atlanta Divorce Law Group today.

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