A summons is a formal notification to you that a case has been filed. In the case of a divorce, it informs you that your spouse filed for divorce and may schedule the first court appearance. The summons and service of the summons is a key event after which you must take certain steps or risk being excluded from the divorce process. Below we discuss some questions you may have after being served with a divorce summons.
Out of the blue I was served with a divorce summons. What do I do?
The practical answer is that as soon as possible you should hire the best lawyer you can afford.
How much time do I have after I am served with summons?
Thirty days. If you do not take action within the 30 days you may be defaulted, that is, the court will assume you have no interest in what your spouse does in the proceedings and after you are defaulted the case may proceed to conclusion without notice to you.
What happens if I am defaulted?
Your spouse will be able to have a divorce judgment entered giving him whatever relief he wishes as long as what he is asking for is not “unconscionable.” My definition of unconscionable is that when the judge hears what your spouse wants, the judge thinks, “Oh my God!”
I am thinking of representing myself. What are the pros and cons?
There is a statement that is true that a lawyer who represents himself as a lawyer has a fool for a client. The reason for this is that even if one has training as a lawyer, the terms of a divorce can make a significant difference for the rest of your life and it is important that you have advice from a an experienced family lawyer to help you. It has also been said that representing yourself is like doing surgery on yourself. You have the legal right to perform surgery on yourself, but it is usually a bad idea.
What should I do to prepare?
NOTICE: Case set for Scheduling Conference. Is this the trial date?
On the petition for dissolution of marriage with which I was served there is stamped a “NOTICE,” which states that the case is set for a “scheduling conference” on a certain date. Is this the trial date?
No. It is merely a time when the judge determines the status of the case and if necessary the judge schedules future action in the case. Assuming you have a lawyer, you do not need to be present for this court appearance as a general rule.
Notice of Motion with a Petition for Temporary Relief
Together with the summons and petition for dissolution of marriage I was served with a “Notice of Motion” with a “Petition for Temporary Relief” attached. The Notice of Motion states a date, time of day, and identity of a judge before whom my spouse’s attorney is going to appear. Is this a court date with which I should be concerned?
Yes. Definitely. This means that the other side is seeking temporary relief, which can be by way of temporary maintenance (alimony), temporary child support, etc. It is unwise not to be represented by counsel at a hearing for temporary relief, but if you have not yet had time to retain a lawyer you should appear before the judge at the time and place indicated and ask the judge to continue the hearing to give you an opportunity to hire a lawyer.