The decision to seek a divorce can be made jointly, or by just one spouse. Usually, the fact that a divorce has been initiated is not a surprise to the Defendant (the spouse that did not initiate the divorce); however, that is not always the case. Being served with divorce papers can be a traumatic way to find out that your spouse wants to end your marriage. If you find yourself in just that situation, however, you need to put your emotional reaction on hold long enough to respond to the Complaint or you could unintentionally waive many of your rights. A Tennessee divorce lawyer explains what to do if you have been served with divorce papers to ensure that those rights are protected.
Initiating a Divorce in Tennessee
When the decision has been made to end a marriage, the next step is to initiate the process of divorce which will legally sever the union. In the State of Tennessee, as a general rule, at least one spouse must have been a resident of the state for at least six months prior to filing the divorce. If you are the victim of abuse, or there is some other time-sensitive emergency, you may be granted permission to file immediately. To initiate the divorce, the Petitioner (spouse filing for divorce) must file a Complaint for Divorce along with a Summons. The Complaint sets forth basic information about the parties and the marriage, states the grounds alleged for the divorce, and asks the court to grant the divorce and any other relief the Petitioner may seek. The Summons informs the Defendant that the divorce process and notified him/her of the date and time of a hearing if one has been set. Both the Complaint and the Summons must be officially served on the Defendant.
I Just Got Served. What Do I Do?
If you were just served with a Complaint and Summons, the most important thing to do first is to read through the documents you were given and to put them in a safe place afterward. Although it may be tempting to bury your head in the proverbial sand, doing so is a huge mistake. Ignoring the Complaint can result in a waiver of your right to participate in the divorce process at all. In Tennessee, as is the case in most states, the law limits the amount of time a Defendant/Respondent has to file a written Answer in a civil lawsuit. In the case of a divorce, the Defendant only has 30 days within which to file an Answer with the court or risk losing the right to participate in the divorce entirely. If a written Answer is not filed with the court within the 30-day timeframe, the Petitioner may request a summary judgment from the court. In essence, this means that the Petitioner will get what he/she asked for in the Complaint because the Defendant failed to show any interest in litigating the divorce.
Responding to the Complaint
As soon as possible after receipt of the Complaint for Divorce you need to file an Answer and/or Counter-Complaint with the court. An Answer is relatively simple as it does precisely what you might think it does – “answer” the allegations in the Complaint. For each point in the Complaint, the Respondent must agree, deny, or indicate a lack of knowledge to answer. You also have the option to file a Counter-Complaint after being served with a divorce Complaint. In a divorce, the primary reason to file a Counter-Complaint is if you wish to allege fault grounds of your own for the divorce. Tennessee allows no-fault divorces; however, the state also continues to offer the option to allege one of 13 different types of fault. If you wish to be granted a divorce based on fault, you will need to file a Counter-Complaint alleging the appropriate grounds. You will then need to prove the grounds alleged over the course of the divorce or at trial.
Contact a Divorce Lawyer
If you were recently served with divorce papers in the State of Tennessee, consult with an experienced divorce lawyer right away to preserve and protect your rights. Contact the team at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.