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Some of you may not be famliar with the old BBC comedy "Are You Being Served?". If you aren't, go check it out. You will be getting a well deserved laugh.

For those of us who have been served, you (like me) probably remember the happy innocence of going to the front door to answer that knock and then finding yourself face to face with the woman or man who came to tell you you'd been dragged into court.

What is Being Served?

Being served is a legal process by which the court assures itself that all parties have been notified to 1/attend any court scheduled activities and 2/ get a lawyer if they don't already have one. In most cases, once you have retained an attorney your attorney's office deals with being served.

If you have ever gone to the post office and sent something with delivery confirmation, you have in many ways 'served' other people. The item is tracked and the proof is there that someone signed for it.

The court is simply trying to make sure noone can say "Hey! I never found out!"

The Process of Being Served

For a lot of women and men, the idea of 'being served' is scary simply because of what comes after the delivery. However, it might be a bit less frightening to know what happens before you get the knock at the door.

In most cases, the opposing party has had weeks to fill out forms and documents. The documents are then filed with the court. In my case, the CA court system then required proof of 'service'. This means the opposing party must go to a bonified service and pay them to hand the papers to you face to face.

I'll admit to taking some small joy in the amount of money ISO must have dished out to serve me on the other side of the continent.

Anyway, the person with the paperwork must then sign for the legal copies. This person can be a deputy sheriff or some other legally appointed servor. This way the court knows that a court officer is getting the paperwork to all parties. It's a matter of being 'fair' to you.

When they knock on your door, they will ask for whomever is the respondent in the case. That is to say, whomever was not the original filer for the documentation [the petitioner]. In most civil cases, only the person being served can sign for the documents.

The Experience of Being Served

If you are on a good footing with your STBX, it is often considered courteous to let the other person know that they should expect to be served. It takes a lot of the fear of that strange knock out of the picture. The process MUST be done, but the fear itself can be mitigated.

Most of us, truth be told, weren't that lucky. In my case, I was under the impression we were still working the legal paperwork out ourselves. It was only when I got called to the door by a small, abrupt woman and told to sign for the documents that I knew this was, in fact, not the case.

She told me she was there on behalf of the petitioner and the court in which the case had been filed. She explained what the documents were and that I was being sued for divorce. My stomach was roiling and I felt like fainting. It's a hard experience being told you are being called before a judge.

The woman then asked if I understood what she had said. I must have looked pretty faint as her face softened noticably and she said that I shouldn't be scared. I can tell you right now that that was one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me. And I'm telling you right now, you don't need to be scared.

She then explained that I had to be in court by such and such date or else have an attorney show up on my behalf. I had 30 days from the receipt of being served to put in my response to the court. She asked if I was ok, and then left to carry her other bundles of joy to some other unhappy soul.

Things to Remember When You are Served

BEING SERVED IS NOT A JUDGEMENT. It might feel like the hand of god, but all this is is 'he said, she said.' You are simply being informed what he is telling the court.

BEING SERVED IS NOT LEGALY BINDING. Just because you see that he's asking for sole custody is not the same as the court telling you that you'll never see your kids. It simply means that is the max he is asking for. It's an opening gambit to see what he can get away with.

BREATHE. You may feel ill. You may feel a sudden emotional drop. Breathe. This is not the end of the world. In fact, if anything, it makes things much clearer. Take your time and read through the documents and see what exactly your STBX is saying. This will give you an idea of what sort of attorney you need to retain.

THIS IS THE START OF THE ROAD TO FREEDOM, NOT THE PATH TO HELL. It may seem like the end of the world, but every divorce that isn't put through a mediator system started this way. At the end of this path lays the way to a new you and a new start. Take peace from that.

And as always, keep your chin up. You'll be fine.

p.s. I am been slowly putting together a What to Expect series for the newbies on the boards. My hope is that by explaining what I went through in certain situations, the fright of the unknown factor would decrease. Some other posts are listed below:

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