To commence any action the Petitioner, or person who is pursuing the action, must have the other party “served” with a copy of the Complaint. This is a requirement in any type of case where the other party is an individual or entity. Having someone served in a divorce or child custody case can be quite a challenge and considers several things. I want to address some of those things here to help facilitate the process in family law much smoother.
Why Serve the Opposing Party in Family Law
The US Constitution Due Process clause, particularly the Fourteenth Amendment, affords each citizen the right to live their life free and fair if certain measures are in place. The specific language that no one shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law”. This basically means that “fairness” must be at the center of all government procedures with respect to its citizens. And the process of serving litigants in an action is one of those procedures that must use fairness and notice. The parties are deprived of fairness, if they are not put on notice or if they are unduly burdened by being sued in a jurisdiction that has no authority over them. The procedural rules the states implement regarding service of process address these issues.
How to Serve the Opposing Party in Family Law
Each state has its own procedural laws regarding service. The basic premise of each of them is to give the parties appropriate and adequate notice of legal action in court or administrative body, to exercise jurisdiction over them. The court, or administrative tribunal, cannot exercise jurisdiction over a person if the person was not properly served.
The steps to serving a party in action include:
- The individual performing the service meets certain requirements
- The location where the person can be served, i.e., their home, work, etc.
- The method of delivery of the documents to be served, i.e., affixing to the party’s front door.
- The days & hours permitted.
- The person(s) who can receive the documents on the party’s behalf.
Planning to Service of Process on the Opposing Party
So, from a strategic standpoint, I am all about strategy in all the services I provide, knowing when to serve the other party takes careful thought. Of course, within the purview of your state’s procedural rules, there are times when you should plot out service. We know the reasons the legal reasons why a party should be served, but thinking about the practicality of serving them is important.
Opposing parties have a time limit to “answer” the Complaint they were served within a divorce or custody action. The clock starts from the time they are appropriately served and failure to respond within that time can lead to a default judgment. (Default judgment limits the ability to claim any defenses, counterclaiming.) So, if you want the case to move faster so that you can get a resolution faster, then ensuring effective service is prudent.
The other party has the right to raise defenses in their Answer or Response to your Complaint. If you know that the defenses, they plan on raising are time-sensitive then you would want to plan the service of your initial Complaint around that.
If you are concerned about your safety or the safety of your personal possessions and how service of process can jeopardize these, then you need to make special arrangements. Domestic violence officers, advocates, etc. can help you develop a plan to have the other party served while keeping you, your family, and/or your things safe.
Serving the opposing party is a must in family law matters and can make a difference in the overall outcome. You should consider the details of this aspect of the case before you start.