joan-harrisEven the most untouchable people can’t escape the process server. Those ‘Mad Men’ fans amongst you may recall the moment in which Joan Holloway’s divorce papers were served at her place of work – completely taking her by surprise and leaving Joan feeling angry and upset. Although this fictionally took place in the 1960s, modern day process serving is still as effective now as it was 40 years ago.

In most cases it will depend on the type of papers you just received as to how you will proceed, and there are many variations of petition being served which need bespoke treatment.

Firstly, do not ignore your papers, nor pretend that you haven’t received anything – a process server has been legally appointed for the courts. The papers you have received will show a date that you need to be in court, so it is important to be prepared in time to support your side of the case. Deciding not to turn show up to the court will result in a default judgement and the judge will favour the spouse, not you. In most cases, you know this is coming so you may have already secured a solicitor to represent your case. But if you didn’t, you may want to seek legal advice from a Family Law specialist. You need to gather any documentation you have and review the papers in order to assess the basis for divorce.

When reviewing the papers, it is important to assess the reasons, which will affect the outcome. Spouses will be expected to meet with their lawyers to discuss allegations and form arguments and defences in an attempt to work out a divorce settlement.

Lengthy divorce proceedings can and do occur depending on whether the spouses contests the divorce or not, and generally lengthy court processes happen as a result. Each spouse will be able to present his/her side during the petition period, and provide evidence for the basis of the divorce if possible. Witnesses may be brought in to strengthen a case, for example, if a spouse has been accused of having an extramarital affair, a friend or colleague may be questioned. The couple also need to agree on distribution of assets and property, family (child) custody, visitation and so on. Under English law, it is possible to finalise a divorce before settling child issues. Once issues have been obtained, a final judgement for divorce will be issued by the court.

So how long will it take? From when you are first served with your divorce papers, and if proceedings are quick, you could expect a divorce to happen between 4 to 6 months, but if circumstances become difficult between parties, this could take much longer. So, the sooner you react to receiving papers from a process server, the sooner can you build your defending case with your lawyer. Never leave the papers to one side, the longer you leave it, the less time you’ll have to defend yourself and you may come off worse than you deserve.