Getting served papers is certain to ruin your day. Whether you get the papers in the mail or you’re handed them by a process server, you should take the papers and accept them. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away—it will just make things worse.
You can take control of the situation and increase your odds of experiencing a favorable outcome. You just have to know what to do in the hours and days after being served.
1. Find Out Why You Have Been Served
Legal papers are notoriously difficult to read and understand. However, you’re certainly going to want to look at the papers right away to discover exactly why you’re being served in the first place. It’s helpful to know what kinds of documents you may find in your papers. They include:
- Writs, which is an order given by a court
- Subpoenas, which notify you that you need to testify before a court
- Summonses are orders given that tell you to appear in court
What you’re looking for as you dig through the paperwork is a complaint. This legal document explains why you’re being sued by another party, but it also contains other information, like important details about the case. If you are not being sued, you may also receive papers that can include eviction notices, wage garnishments, orders of protection, divorce papers, or collection letters.
Once you know exactly why you’re being served, you can start the process of overcoming this new challenge in your life.
2. Take a Minute to Calm Down
When you look at the big picture, not taking immediate action within the first 24 hours of receiving papers isn’t going change the outcome for better or worse. Once you have satisfied your need to know, it’s a good idea to take a little while to calm down.
There are a lot of things you shouldn’t do when you are mad, and reacting to being served is one of those things. It’s not a good idea to act when you’re feeling stunned or overly worried either. Give yourself some time to process the news and talk about what happened with those you are closest to. You can always pick up the papers and figure out what to do in the morning.
3. Look for a Deadline or Court Date
Once you’ve had a chance to calm down and accept what’s happening to you, dive back into the paperwork and see if there are any deadlines or court dates that you are required to follow. It doesn’t matter if you’re going through a divorce or you’re settling credit card debt, if you miss a deadline, the courts will rule without you, and it likely won’t be in your favor.
If there are important dates coming up in your case, make sure you write them down somewhere where you can’t forget. If you aren’t much of a planner person, put the date in your cell phone with an alarm so it can’t be ignored.
4. Hire an Attorney
It doesn’t matter why you’re being served papers, it’s a good idea to hire an attorney. Lawyers can do many different things to help you reach a favorable outcome in your case, but one of the biggest services they can provide is knowledge.
An attorney understands even the most complex paperwork and they can explain everything that’s going on in terms that you can understand. Just make sure you understand your attorney’s fee schedule so you aren’t surprised by the final bill.
5. Ask for More Time
The courts have a reputation for being sluggish. That is true sometimes, but you’re more likely to discover that you have the opposite problem after you are served papers. The dates in your paperwork may approach faster than you’re ready for them, especially if you’re in the process of trying to find an attorney.
It’s a good idea to ask for additional time. Ten days before your response is due, request an additional 30 days to get everything in order. That way you have plenty of time to find an attorney and develop a plan of action that gives you the best chance of success.
Being served papers is one of the scariest times in any person’s life, but you can overcome this challenge as a stronger person. Take the time to find an attorney you trust, take deep breaths, and stay calm throughout the process, and you can move on with your life without the legal system looking over your shoulder.