The idea of divorce can be absolutely terrifying, especially when it comes out of nowhere. Once you get past the social stigma of divorce, sometimes you realize it might be best for you and your family. Still, that doesn’t make it any less overwhelming or confusing as you venture into the unknown. You’re going to have to make a lot of choices, and some of them are pretty critical to your future. To sum it up, divorce is scary – but breaking it down step by step can make it a little easier.

Either you will need to serve your spouse or they will need to serve you. Until the papers are drawn up and done, there’s no legal action you have to take. However, if your spouse heads you off and serves you with papers first, you have three weeks in the state of California to do anything about it. If you haven’t talked to a professional yet, now is the time to seek out an attorney that you know you’ll enjoy working with. Three weeks sounds like a lot of time, but it goes by quickly if you have other things going on in your life, too. However, don’t give into the temptation to bury your head in the sand. The legal system doesn’t wait for you to come to your senses.

Take a deep breath. Even if you don’t have kids, the next few months will be long and arduous. Moving forward with dissolving your marriage can be extremely difficult, so it’s okay to relax a little before answering the summons or summoning your soon to be ex yourself.

Know what you’re receiving. Filing for a divorce doesn’t mean you get paperwork that says “divorce paperwork”. In fact, getting served either happens when someone comes to your door with papers from your spouse’s attorney or leaves them on your door when you aren’t home. They often say “complaint” at the top, and are obviously official court orders. However, sometimes you’ll receive other documentation, such as a draft of a separation agreement (this is typically from a lawyer). Sometimes you may also receive a Property Settlement Agreement and other documentation if your significant other is especially on top of things, though you can choose to ignore such documents if they were not served to you and instead came in the regular mail.

If you’re having trouble deciphering one document from another, don’t be afraid to seek out a qualified Bakersfield divorce attorney immediately to help set things straight. Ignoring something you shouldn’t can cost you more than you might think, and a good divorce attorney can make sure that doesn’t happen.