First, a party to a case (such as one spouse in a divorce case) can not be the one to serve process on an opposing party. However, if you signed an acceptance of service, you have acknowledged being served and it doesnt matter that it was she that gave you the papers. So if you signed an acceptance of service, your 20 days began to run at that time. An Acceptance of Service is NOT an answer, and you do have to respond to the petition, or at least file an appearance in the case to avoid default. If, on the other hand, you signed a "Joinder" to the petition (which can be either a separate document or a signature on the petition itself), you have agreed to all the allegations and requests that she made in her petition, and if you still do, you would not need to file an answer.
Often when a divorce is filed, the petitioner does not make a specific proposal as to the terms of the divorce - division of property and debts, parenting and support issues - right away. So even if you did sign a joinder, you may have agreed only to the jurisdictional allegations and to the general propositions that the property and debt should be equitably divided at a later time.
It seems though that you are not entirely sure what it was that you signed, since this was all happening at a moment of high emotion. Your best bet is to at least a file a notice of appearance in the case and serve it on her attorney. This will prevent anything from happening to you without your receiving notice and an opportunity to be heard by the court.
As far as dividing a retirement is concerned, it CAN be complicated, but it is done in many, many divorces. Depending on the value of the retirement and the length of the marriage, it may the single largest asset of the marriage, in which case it would be impossible not to divide it; if the marriage was short or the retirement is small or both, it may be more trouble than it's worth to divide it, especially if there are other assets of the marriage which are available to compensate you for your interest in that retirement account. Typically, it is not a good idea to actually "remove" money from a retirement account (if you are even allowed to do that) but rather to divide the retirement account by way of a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) or similar instrument that enables you to obtain your fair share of the account without having to pay taxes or penalties for an early withdrawal of funds.
As to service, a party is incompetent to testify as to the service of pleadings. You have indicated that you have signed that you received the divorce papers. The usual document that is signed is an Acceptance of Service. On the Acceptance of Service form, there is usually a place to indicate where futrure documents should be served upon you,
You did not indicate what documents you received. The Summons and Petition for Dissolution would be the pleadings to commence a divorce action and additional documents may be served at the same time. The Summons would indicate that you have 20 days to respond to the Petition or a default may be taken against you. If the other party intends to seek a default order against you, they would need to give you notice of the motion if you have provided notice of your address in the Acceptance form. The time period for notice would depend upon the courty in which the action is commnced as each county has their own local rules.
I would not rely on the statements of your spouse as to the effect of any pleadings nor as to what you should or shouldn't do. You should contact an attorney to discuss a settlement and what may be problems that would arise, e.g. what happens if she files bankruptcy, discharges her obligation for community debts and then the creditors come after you.
An Acceptance of Service form is not the same as a Response. You can file your own Response or have your attorney do it and this will stop an Order of Default from being entered against you.
Mr. Pierce is licensed to practice law in Washing with an office in Seattle and services clients in all parts of Washington. He can be reached at 206-587-3757 or at the email address listed below.
Mr. Pierce is ethically required to state that the response herein is not legal advice and does not create an attorney/ client relationship. Also, there are no recognized legal specialties under Washington law. This response is only in the form of legal education and are intended to only provide general information about the matter within the question. Oftentimes the question does not include significant and important facts and timelines that if known could significantly change the reply or make such reply unsuitable. Mr. Pierce strongly advises the questioner to confer with an attorney in their state in order to ensure proper advice is received.
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