How to Respond When Your Spouse Files for Divorce Without Telling You

husband filed for divorce without telling me

There likely aren’t words potent enough for the hurricane of emotions when your spouse serves you with divorce papers out of nowhere.

Maybe you knew things were rocky and that problems festered beneath the surface. Even still, being blindsided by the person you love can shake you to the core.

But lashing out is never the answer here. Not only would you be giving your spouse the reaction they wanted in the first place, but it could also seriously jeopardize your case.

Instead, here’s exactly how to respond when your spouse files for divorce without telling you.

Respond Promptly to Avoid Default Judgment

The first thing you need to know is that you only have 30 days to file a response to the divorce petition in Minnesota. This response is formally called the Answer and Counterpetition.

Failure to file the response within 30 days could result in your husband or wife getting a default judgment. This means the court will grant the divorce and approve his requested terms for property division, spousal support, child custody, and child support without getting your input.

As soon as you are served the divorce papers, contact a Minnesota divorce attorney. You need legal guidance to ensure you file the proper response on time and avoid being blindsided by court orders down the road.

Be Sure You Were Properly Served Divorce Papers

For a divorce to legally proceed, you need to be properly served with the divorce petition and summons. This means that you are formally notified that a divorce action has been started. Depending on your situation, you may be personally served by a process server who will hand you the divorce papers. Or if your spouse does not know your whereabouts, they may need to serve you via alternative means like posting a notice in the newspaper or mail.

Do not ignore any correspondence you receive, even if you think it may be divorce-related. Open everything and look for any legal documents, especially anything referencing the dissolution of marriage. You need to be aware of what your spouse is petitioning for in the divorce so you can protect your rights.

Understand Why They Filed For Divorce

It likely came as a complete shock to be served with divorce papers out of the blue. You probably figured divorce was never even on his mind. However, here are some potential reasons they may have filed without telling you:

  • They wanted to gain an advantage in the divorce. In some cases, the spouse who files first has the upper hand when it comes to getting more of the marital assets and favorable custody arrangements. Your spouse may have wanted to get a head start.
  • You have been separated for a while. Even if you didn’t realize it, they may have felt like the marriage was over long before filing for divorce. The papers may have solidified what they felt was already the case.
  • They found someone new. Unfortunately, sometimes, one spouse will go behind the other’s back and start a new relationship. The secrecy leads them to also file for divorce quietly.
  • They have concerns about your reaction. If there has been domestic conflict, they may have worried that telling you about his plan to file could put his safety at risk.

While it is hurtful that they did not communicate with you, try to avoid making assumptions about his motives. Stay calm and let your divorce lawyer handle getting his side of the story.

Take Steps to Protect Your Interests

The next move is to take steps to protect yourself both financially and legally:

  • Avoid large purchases or asset sales. Your first call needs to be to a divorce lawyer to advise you on what big financial decisions to avoid that could hurt you later. For example, you generally want to avoid making big purchases on joint credit cards or moving significant money between accounts.
  • Gather financial documentation. Work with your attorney to pull together tax returns, bank and investment statements, credit card statements, and mortgage information. You need to know the full marital estate to ensure a fair property division.
  • Change beneficiary designations. Update beneficiary listings on life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and bank accounts to protect your loved ones. Consult your divorce lawyer before making any changes.
  • Update your will and medical directive. Any end-of-life planning documents likely name your husband or wife since you were married. Have a new will and medical power of attorney drafted to represent your wishes.
  • Watch for court dates. After you respond to the divorce petition, there will be court dates set. Be sure to attend or have your attorney attend to represent your rights and interests throughout the divorce process.

Consider Alternative Dispute Resolution

Most contested divorces in Minnesota end up going through some type of alternative dispute resolution to avoid a lengthy court battle. Your attorney may recommend options like:

  • Mediation. This involves sitting down with your spouse, each of you with your lawyers, and a neutral third-party mediator. The mediator helps you negotiate a compromise on areas of dispute.
  • Collaborative divorce. You each hire a collaboratively trained attorney to negotiate the divorce terms outside of court. The goal is win-win solutions versus courtroom battles.
  • Arbitration. If you cannot resolve a certain issue, like the division of a business, you may agree to hire an arbitrator who makes the final binding decision. This can be faster and less expensive than litigation.

Even though your spouse blindsided you with the divorce filing, there are still opportunities to work together on compromise and avoid an ugly court fight.

Know Your Rights and Options for Child Custody

If you have minor children, one of your top priorities needs to be protecting your parental rights. Here are some key considerations for child custody in Minnesota:

  • Types of custody. There is physical custody (who the child primarily lives with) and legal custody (who makes major decisions about health, education, religion, etc). Legal can be joint or sole, while physical can be split in various ways.
  • Parenting time. This outlines the detailed schedule for when each parent has the kids. Things like weekdays, weekends, and holidays are mapped out.
  • Modifying custody. If your parenting plan is not working well, later on, you can request the court to modify it, especially if there are significant changes in circumstances.
  • Relocation of parents. There are specific steps for notifying your ex if you intend to move more than 150 miles away with the children.
  • Child’s preference. Minnesota courts will consider the child’s opinion on custody if they are mature enough to express an intelligent preference.
  • Evidentiary considerations. Factors like the history of domestic abuse, involvement in child-rearing, and any chemical dependency issues are considered in determining custody.

Don’t let your husband railroad you into an unfair or unsafe child custody situation. Hire an experienced family law attorney to fight for your parenting rights.

Seek Spousal Support if Appropriate

Alimony, or spousal maintenance, is money paid from one ex-spouse to the other after divorce. It is not guaranteed, but here are some key factors a Minnesota court considers:

  • Length of marriage – Alimony more likely in long-term marriages
  • Standard of living – Did you become accustomed to a certain lifestyle?
  • Income disparity – The higher-earning spouse may pay maintenance
  • Health factors – Illness or disability may affect the ability to work
  • Job skills – Assessing each spouse’s ability to earn income

Work closely with your divorce lawyer to seek a fair amount and duration of spousal maintenance based on your situation. The key is thoroughly documenting each factor above.

Contact a Minnesota Divorce Attorney For Help

Going through a divorce is difficult enough when it is amicable and planned. Being blindsided with divorce papers understandably adds an extra layer of confusion and heartache.

At the end of the day, you deserve to have the most favorable outcome and transition into the next chapter of your life. By seeking legal advice, you can confidently move forward, knowing your rights are protected under Minnesota divorce laws.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation – we are here to help.

Author Bio

Xavier Martine

Xavier Martine is the Founder of Martine Law, a Minnesota criminal defense and family law firm. Serving clients in Minneapolis, MN, and surrounding areas, he is dedicated to representing clients in a wide range of criminal matters, including DWIs, drug charges, misdemeanors, domestic violence, and other criminal charges. He also represents clients in family law matters, including divorce, child support, and child custody.

Xavier received his Juris Doctor from the Mitchell Hamline School of Law and is a member of the Minnesota State Bar Association. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including being named among the “Top 10 Criminal Defense Attorneys Under 40 in Minnesota” in 2021 by The National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys. He was also named the “Best DUI Lawyer in Minneapolis” award in 2023 by and a “Rising Star” in 2023 by SuperLawyers.

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