You’ve been served with a lawsuit (divorce, breach of contract, child custody, etc.) and of course you’re not too happy. What should you do?
Step one: DON’T IGNORE IT
So many people think that if they ignore a lawsuit of any kind that it’ll just go away. This is correct to an extent. The lawsuit will go away, but it’ll be with a judgment that you won’t be very happy about. Your ex-spouse will have gotten what he/she asked for in the dividing the marital assets, the creditor will get a judgment against for the full amount requested (and be able to pursue putting liens on eligible property), and so on. This ultimately leads to what’s called default judgment and a huge mistake on your part that will cost even more money for an attorney to fix than it initially would have.
Also, if you know a process server is trying to serve you with papers, DON’T DODGE THEM. There are several ways the party who filed the lawsuit can get around this attempt to get out of the lawsuit as well, which may likely lead to a default judgment situation too. Meet with the process server, get the documents, and work on getting through the process.
Step two: FILE AN ANSWER
To avoid the above situation from happening, you’ll need to file an answer with your assigned court within approximately 20 days after you’ve been served. An answer is typically a very generic document and the court can walk you through how to get it filed if you don’t have legal counsel.
Step three: CONSIDER LEGAL COUNSEL
The court system can be extremely tricky for anyone who is unfamiliar with it. Unless you want to outright agree to everything your opposing party wants, I’d strongly suggest that you get an attorney. It would be ideal to do this before your answer is due, especially if the documents you were served with include a discovery request (a request for evidence pertaining to your case).
A lot of people try to avoid the cost of hiring an attorney, which usually leads to more costly mistakes in the long run and a bigger legal bill to get it fixed (just like the outcome of ignoring the lawsuit). The best approach is to meet with at least 3 attorneys to see who will be the best fit for you. Do your research on each of the 3 potentials and if something about their online presence makes you feel uneasy, don’t hire them. Period. End of story. I’ve seen far too many people hire an attorney with several reviews that they’ve taken the money and ran and yet the person still hired them despite their gut feeling that it wasn’t the right choice. Don’t let this be you.
Step four: DON’T PANIC
While it’s probably not going to be a completely painless process, a lawsuit won’t be the end of the world. It may be an expensive process, something that consumes a lot of time, or even something that takes several years depending on the nature of the suit, but at the end of the day you’ve got to do what you can within reason to keep it from consuming your every thought to the point that you’re constantly worried or anxious.
Don’t avoid it and find a great attorney. You’ll make it through!