A few months after my ex left, sometime in late January, I was sitting around, minding my own business and rebuilding my life. I had a job that I hated, but that was paying every single one of my bills. I had stopped crying about my separation in public spaces. My daughter was easing out of her clinginess. Life was alright. And then WHAM! I got a hostile text from my ex saying that the paralegal he hired for our divorce had been trying (unsuccessfully) to serve me with divorce papers. Initially, I thought “Ha! That’s what you get! Good luck trying to get me suckas!” But the responsible part of me knew that simply avoiding the paralegal would not somehow make my divorce disappear; it was going to happen regardless.
The next day, while at work, I received a phone call from an unknown number. I don't generally answer calls from unknown numbers. I did this time because I assumed it was the paralegal. And it was. She asked when I’d be at my home so she could serve me my papers. I was agitated by this - by the thought that I needed to make myself available to receive documents, from a stranger, who was hired to help my husband officially stop being my husband. It wasn’t her fault, of course. But she felt like the walking embodiment of consent to my ex’s shenanigans. I snappily told her when I’d be home that day and hung up the phone.
When I got home later that evening, I got another phone call from that same unknown number. I reluctantly answered. She indicated she was pulling up at my apartment and would like for me to come out and retrieve the papers. I slid into my slippers and shuffled slowly outside. I had no idea what to expect. What exactly am I being served with? Do I have to provide anything? Who is this paralegal? Should I have done my hair? Or put on real shoes? No one prepares you for these things! (But I will, at the end of this post.)
She introduced herself and handed me a thick manila envelope. I mumbled a quick “ok, great” and went back inside. When I got inside, I placed the envelope on the kitchen counter. I was so anxious about what I’d find inside that I wanted to steel myself before delving into it. But like, who am I kidding?! I’m supremely impatient. So before any steeling could occur, I opened the envelope. I pulled out a packet of papers, paper clipped together. Right there, on the very front page were the words “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.” I just stood there, frozen. It was like a punch to the gut. He was really divorcing me. And with that realization, the tears came.
I continuously wiped them away so that I could keep reading. I flipped through the initial papers in order to get to his declaration. Then I stopped crying because there were so many errors in it! The date we got married was wrong, along with the spelling of our daughter’s name, and a host of grammatical errors. With that, I was oddly both amused and annoyed. I called my ex to tell him I received the papers and that there were several errors. At the beginning of this painful process, I must confess, I took every opportunity I could to express my anger towards him. So I was all prepared to go in on him about how unprofessional his paralegal was when I actually stopped to take a minute and listen to his voice. He wasn’t sitting back, excited to be getting divorced. He was sad, and angry, and confused too. So I still went in on him, I just did it briefly and with less hostility.
I finished talking with him, gathered myself, and then perused the papers one more time. I made a note of the important dates - when I needed to respond to the petition, and when I needed to report for mediation of child custody and visitation. I put the papers back in the envelope and put the envelope in my important documents file. I did not think about or look at those papers again until it was time to file my response.
Getting served with legal divorce papers can be an incredibly scary and daunting event. Like many aspects of divorce, it is not something we ever expect. So it's not something we prepare for. But if you ever find yourself being served with divorce papers, here’s a little background info:
To start any legal action, the person initiating the action must formally inform the person they’re taking action against of the action being taken. This is called Service of Process, and it is what is meant when you hear someone say they were “served”. There are many ways to conduct Service of Process - mail, publication, and personally. Personal Service is the most common and reliable, and requires that someone personally deliver the court documents to the other party. This person can NOT be a party to the case.
Then, here’s a few pointers I wish I had known:
Avoiding the process server will not help. They can always just serve you by mail or publication. The case will go on regardless.
You do not owe the process server anything - money, conversation, kindness. Just a signature at most.
Your ex cannot be the one serving you papers.
Please read everything you’re served with as soon as you’re able. There's usually some sort of instruction or date in them.
Create a file with all of your divorce documents. Trust me, you never know when you may need them.
Hire a lawyer if you need to and take the papers with you!
This is just the first step in a series of many that will eventually lead to divorce. It completely sucks. But let’s start it on the right foot! Drop any tips you have in the comments below!