You've been served: What's next?

You've been served with papers.

This might cause a range of emotions, from fear to anxiety to outright anger - perhaps all of the above, especially if you're a first-timer. It's understandable. Once the initial shock wears off, though, hit the pause button.

We realize that's easy for us to say, since being served is more or less a daily occurrence for lawyers, but what's important, now that you've been served, is to get in front of the situation and take it one step at a time.

What does it mean to be served?

Service of process, a.k.a. "being served," gives notice to a person.

In the family law context, service of process makes one spouse or partner aware that the other has filed a lawsuit. You may be served with divorce papers, for example, or with papers that seek to "reopen" a case to change the child custody, parenting plan, or spousal support arrangements.

Whatever the case may be, service of process sets in motion a series of events and requirements. One of the most critical is the first: the requirement to respond.

What is the requirement to respond?

The word default is something of a bad word in law.

In this context, it means that one party to a lawsuit has failed to file a response on time, if at all, which sometimes happens in family law cases. Default may also occur if the response is insufficient. In default, you've lost your chance to argue your side of the case.

You have essentially forfeited your day in court.

Consequently, the judge may grant everything your spouse or partner has asked for in the papers (or may not, depending on the circumstances, but it's a huge risk to take). In other words, you want to do everything you can to avoid default.

20 days to respond

In Florida, you generally have just 20 days after being served to file a written response with the court, or default can be entered against you. The short story here is to hire a lawyer as soon as possible after being served with papers. That's the surest way to help protect your rights.

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  • The Law Office of Daniel E. Forrest represents individuals in Fort Lauderdale in high-asset divorce matters. Daniel Forrest is board-certified family lawyer and mediator serving the South Florida area.
  • The Florida Bar - Board Certified | Marital & Family Law
  • AV(R) Preeminent Martindale-Hubbell(R) Lawyer Ratings
  • Rated By Super Lawyers | Rising Stars Daniel Forrest | SuperLawyers.com
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