The Pony Express only existed for 19 months. Its outsized stamp on our imaginations is due, probably, to the audacity of the idea — delivering important documents in a wholly original way that beat all other ways, like railroads, ship, stagecoaches, and freight wagons. Today we have even more methods for getting an important letter into someone’s hands. One of the least welcome methods is by service of process, delivered by (predictably) a process server. If you got a letter informing you that your wife has filed for divorce, you probably got it through a process server, who merrily walked away without a care in the world. Meanwhile, back at the ranch …
Giddyup: Being Served is Pretty Official
Now you are standing with actual, legal documents in your hand. You are holding your wife’s notice that she is divorcing you, so you have been served with papers. Unlike the Pony Express, you cannot pass these off to some other rider; Virginia’s circuit courts consider you to be officially informed of her intentions.
Unfortunately, service of process is not required to be a private, discreet function, either. The process server can tap you (the defendant) anywhere you live or work, so long as the service complies with Code of Virginia § 20-99.1:1.
This section of the Commonwealth’s laws is a special carve-out for divorce service, since it allows you, the defendant to:
- Sign for the service before a Virginia officer authorized to administer oaths, or
- Accept or waive service by filing a notarized writing, or
- File an answer in the divorce suit
The papers your wife (the complainant) sent via the process server can be signed for by anyone in your home over the age of 16, can be affixed to your home’s front door, or can even be mailed to your address if you sign for them.
Like a noble Pony Express rider, the process server is relentless, because that is the job. Do not take out your hard feelings about your wife on the process server.
How Much Time Do You Have to Respond After Being Served with Divorce Papers?
Once the divorce starts, you will be hard-pressed to stop it. Your wife initiated the proceedings (presumably after some serious thought), so she is in control of the proceedings until your attorney can step in.
So, after your stunned silence, or boiling rage, or genuine heartache, your next step must be to contact your divorce attorney. You are in no shape to intellectually deal with divorce papers, and you already engaged your lawyer at separation (you did, of course, right?).
The first thing your attorney will do is slow down the process, if that benefits you. You are legally required to give a response to the divorce petition within 21 days of being served, so the first thing your attorney may do is to push for at least one extension. This can be done attorney to attorney, or can be filed in court if needed.
If you do not answer your wife’s divorce petition, the court will continue with proceedings as if you assented to them. Crumpling up the notice, therefore, is not an effective strategy.
Not So Fast!
The Pony Express was twice as fast as its nearest competitor, says The History Channel. Still, it took about 10 days for a document to cross the country from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California. In a Virginia divorce, you will hardly feel the need to rush at the speed of ponies.
Just because your wife filed for divorce, you do not need to upend your life. The proceedings will take a while, as the two sides (you, ably represented by your attorney, and your wife, represented by hers) petition the court and issue responses over various issues such as home ownership, child custody, spousal support and more.
The longer your attorney can put off your initial response to your wife’s complaint, the more time you have to collect all the information you and your lawyer need to be prepared for the divorce:
- Banking records
- Deeds and Titles
- Evidence of ownership of property before the marriage
- Children’s birth and medical records
- Retirement accounts
You need all the information you can gather because at some point you and your wife will work through a property settlement agreement. Your attorney will approach this evidence gathering methodically, to preserve your rights and secure your financial future.
Call The Firm For Men’s Divorce Lawyers for Men
The lawyer you began the divorce process with, back at separation, should normally be the same lawyer you continue with during the divorce itself. This attorney has your complete background, probably has started working on your property settlement agreement, and knows you personally.
Anytime you are unsure what to do regarding a family law issue, please call 757-383-9184 to reach The Firm For Men. We can help with separation, divorce, custody and more. Contact us online or stop by our office in Virginia Beach to schedule a consultation.