So, you have been served with legal pleadings in a family law case*. What should you do next? It goes without saying but read them very carefully. In most cases, you have twenty days from when you were served (handed) the pleadings to respond or it can result in a default against you (meaning the plaintiff/petitioner will receive exactly what they are asking for).
You should also decide whether you want to hire a lawyer (read my blog “Should I hire a lawyer?” by clicking here). At the very least, it is worth obtaining an initial consultation with a lawyer to review the paperwork and to determine your next steps. Most attorneys at Rodgers Kee Card & Strophy offer thirty-minute legal consultations for $100.
If you are getting close to the deadline to respond and have not retained an attorney yet, you should likely file a Notice of Appearance. The opposing party will be required to provide you with the date and time of any future hearings/court appearances that are scheduled. Make sure that the address you provide on the notice is somewhere you are willing to accept service of documents from the other party (if you list an email address you can be served via email). You will need to provide a copy of the Notice of Appearance to the other side or their attorney if they have one.
If the other party’s lawyer has set a court hearing and you have not had adequate time to prepare or hire a lawyer, it is always worth contacting their attorney to respectfully request a continuance (or delay of the hearing). However, that does not mean that the attorney must agree to a continuance. You can also ask the court for a continuance at the actual hearing but beware, the court is not required to grant your request and can go forward with the hearing whether you are prepared or not (the court will often grant a one-time continuance to obtain counsel unless the case involves emergency issues or children).
If you choose to represent yourself, you will need to respond in writing in advance of the hearing to the pleadings you were served with. You will also need to provide a copy to the other side or their attorney. The courthouse has responsive pleadings available to purchase or you can download them for free from WashingtonLawHelp.org.
(*This information only pertains to family law cases. Family law cases cover a wide variety of issues including: divorce/dissolution, separation, paternity/parentage, child custody, adoption, nonparental custody, grandparent’s rights, relocation, termination of parental rights, child support, contempt, adequate cause, modification of parenting plan, etc.)