If your husband has already filed for divorce, you probably feel like he has forced your hand, at least a little. In some ways, he has, because once you’ve been served with a complaint, you’ll have to respond to it within 21 days.
If you’ve already negotiated a written and signed separation agreement, you won’t have to do too much more. He can move forward with scheduling an uncontested divorce hearing, but since you’ve already got a signed agreement, he can’t materially change the terms of that agreement. You may still wish to be present at the final hearing, however, and you should also ask to be provided with copies of the documents (especially the Final Decree of Divorce) filed in your case.
If you have not negotiated a written and signed separation agreement, you’re probably a little more nervous. This means that your husband is, at least at this particular moment, pursuing a litigated divorce, rather than negotiating a separation agreement with you. A litigated divorce means that you put your case on in front of a judge, and he ultimately makes a decision about how everything will be divided. If you were hoping to keep your case out of court or you haven’t had a chance to hire an attorney yet, being served a complaint out of the blue can be a very jarring experience.
It may be tempting to put the complaint away and not look at it. After all, it is pretty upsetting, and sometimes it seems easier to just not deal with things that make you uncomfortable. However, in a divorce, that’s the worst possible move you can make. If you don’t at least respond to your husband’s complaint, your husband could proceed with the divorce without further notice to you. And if you thought it was difficult to get what you wanted in a divorce trial, imagine how much more difficult it would be for you if he didn’t even have to notify you about it beforehand, so you weren’t even there! Trust me, your divorce will NOT go your way if you can’t even be there to present your own case.
Even though having a complaint before you have a signed separation agreement indicates that things are headed towards litigation, remember that this doesn’t mean that litigation is suddenly your only alternative. It happens fairly often that either one side or the other files for divorce in order to spur the other side into action, but, eventually, the case moves back towards negotiation. There is no reason that you can’t later negotiate a separation agreement between yourselves without the involvement of the judge.
If your husband has already filed for divorce, you need to respond within the 21 days. It may also be a good idea to talk to an attorney, if you haven’t already. But stay calm, relax, and remember that things can settle down and become more amicable further on down the road. In fact, almost every divorce is ultimately settled, and only rarely does a judge actually conduct a full divorce trial. So take a deep breath, but keep the complaint at the forefront of your mind and make sure you don’t let the 21 day time period lapse.