Divorce is a process, and that process starts as soon as you have been served with a divorce summons.
A divorce summons, formally called a “Summons with Notice” or Summons and Complaint” is an official, legal notification that your spouse has filed for divorce.
The spouse who files for divorce is the plaintiff and the spouse who receives the summons is the defendant. As the defendant, here are some immediate steps you must take.
1. Respond to the summons within 20 days
Once your spouse has made a filing with the court clerk for divorce, he or she has four months (120 days) of to serve you notice. If you do not plan to contest the divorce, you spouse can serve you the papers personally.
Otherwise, papers can be delivered by a process server, either a licensed individual or anybody over the age of 18.
Once you have received the papers, you have 20 days to respond (30, if you don’t reside in New York).
Not responding is never a good idea, as it means you give up all your rights to everything from child custody to your share of the marital property.
It also does not stop your spouse from divorcing you as New York is a “no-fault” divorce state and failing to, or refusing to, respond only means it will be a default divorce.
2. File an answer
Your lawyer is your most valuable resource when it comes to filing an answer.
Your attorney will first go over the summons and verified complaint, answer any questions you may have, explain what is being asked of you, and discuss the legal and financial ramifications.
Then, your lawyer will draft an answer (response) and make sure it is filed with the courts in a timely manner.
3. Answer or admit to specific claims
It can be painful to see some of the claims that your spouse may have made against you in filing for a divorce, but it is necessary to respond with a verified answer. Again, your attorney can help you with this.
Your choices are that you can either admit to the claim, deny the claim or state that you are unaware of the factual assertion. You can also challenge the claims made in an “Answer and Counterclaim.”
This allows you a chance to provide facts and make challenges of your own. And just as you had 20 days to file your answer, your spouse also has 20 days to file a response.
Whether you were caught off-guard or expected the summons, it’s in your best interest to contact an attorney with experience in the New York divorce process.
Like most legal matters, divorce can be complicated—even if you’re expecting (or hoping) it will be amicable.
Make sure your rights are protected by getting skilled legal representation
Divorce is a lot less stressful when you know you have an advocate who can explain what to expect and help you sort out the myriad legal and financial issues.