You might feel sadness, surprise and confusion if your spouse files for divorce, especially if you did not know about the decision ahead of time. However, if your spouse has filed a divorce petition, you will need to prepare for the consequences to follow. Each state enacts and enforces its own divorce laws through the state courts. To defend yourself in divorce, educate yourself about the relevant laws and procedures in your state, and think about whether you should hire an attorney to represent you.
Learn the laws and procedures followed by your state's family law courts. Research divorce law through reputable sources, such as a law library or a self-help centre administered by your state's judicial branch. From your state or local bar association, obtain brochures or divorce law information written for the public.
Consider whether you would like to consult with a local attorney who can help to defend you in your divorce. Legal representation might be especially important if your case is complicated or if you do not understand the divorce papers served on you.
Look for free or low-cost legal help in your area through a legal aid organisation if you can't afford a private attorney (see Resources section). Find out whether your state courts have family law facilitator offices to help divorce litigants who have decided to represent themselves.
Review any divorce papers, often called the "petition" or "complaint," that are served on you. Identify the legal issues, such as alimony or spousal support, child custody, child support, property division, or residence in the family home. Make note of the dates when you must file your response papers with the court or appear at any scheduled court hearings, and comply with these deadlines.
Gather any relevant documents, such as financial records, that you might need to defend your preferences regarding the legal issues to be decided during the divorce. Continue to follow the divorce procedures required by your state's family law courts.
Consider participating in marital counselling, mediation or collaborative law exercises if you believe that would encourage your spouse to proceed with the divorce in a cooperative manner. Contact the police or a domestic-violence organisation immediately if you fear for your personal safety or the safety of your children.
Divorce has financial and legal consequences, so it is often preferable to seek a lawyer's advice and representation.