by Christina Randazzo, Esq.
So you've been served with a Summons for divorce or a Petition in Family Court in New York State - what should you do now? Call an attorney.
I know that answer seems a bit self-serving coming from a family law lawyer, but it is truly the smartest thing you can do for yourself right now. You may think you can't afford an attorney or you may think talking to an attorney will only complicate the situation, but it doesn't hurt to at least have a consultation with an attorney experienced in divorce or family law so that you know the proper way to proceed. Then you can make an informed decision about whether to hire counsel or go it alone. The worst options are to ignore the situation, assume you and the petitioner/plaintiff will be able to work it out, or assume the judge will be on your side once she/he hears your story. The consequences can be catastrophic.
Every attorney I know who practices in this area has received a call from someone desperately seeking advice because the person just appeared in court and isn't sure what just happened, or because they signed an agreement or consented to an order, didn't fully understand it, and now regret it. It is almost always more expensive and time consuming (and not always possible) to try to put right these situations than it is to have an attorney guiding you from the outset. Don't do that to yourself - at the very least, speak to an experienced attorney as soon as you are served and let yourself be informed about what will be involved.
If you are served with a Summons and Complaint in a New York Supreme Court for a divorce, you typically have 20 days (but sometimes longer) to respond by filing an Answer. Failing to respond timely can result in a default judgment against you, meaning you may lose your right to defend yourself in the action or to put forth your own claims.
If you are served with a Petition in a New York Family Court, typically you will be given a court date on which to appear. A Petition in Family Court may relate to custody of a child, child support, spousal maintenance, or even a restraining order. Failure to appear can result in a default judgment against you, meaning you might be handing a victory to the petitioner regarding whatever relief he/she is seeking against you at great consequence to you. If it is impossible for you to appear on the court date you are given for good reason, it is possible to ask for another date and the court will usually accommodate your request. Don't assume you have no options.
If you've been served, call me. I will go over your situation with you and give you an idea of what to expect so that you can avoid costly mistakes. Click here to contact me.
To further discuss your family law situation, call Christina at 845-632-1971 or click here to send an email.
The content of this blog is not, nor is it meant to be, legal advice. Consult an attorney about your unique situation before proceeding in your legal matter.