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What Happens if I Don’t Respond to Divorce Papers?

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Once a spouse has served an issued divorce application (usually a step completed by the court, unless requested otherwise), this indicates the start of the divorce process. Alongside this initial step, the court will also send an email notification to the respondent, requesting that they formally acknowledge service of the divorce application, via the online portal, and within 14 days.

What is the Acknowledgement of Service and is it a legal requirement?

An acknowledgement of service is a formal document that the respondent will receive from the court. By completing the document, the respondent acknowledges that they have been served with the divorce application (together with the supporting documents) and they set out whether they are prepared to accept the process or intend to defend it.

What happens if my spouse does not respond to divorce papers?

Failure to respond to a divorce application can result in you still proceeding with the divorce if the court determines that valid service of the application has taken place. A number of actions can be taken (detailed below) and, in addition to these, there may also be adverse cost consequences for the unresponsive party. It is generally advised not to take an obstructive position, without good reason.

There are, however, circumstances where a respondent cannot be reached, which is why the service of the application may also fail.

What legal action can either party take?

Re-serve the divorce papers

It is advisable to check with your spouse that they have duly received the divorce application. If they have not done so, you can re-serve the papers on them and ask them to respond promptly. In doing so, it is also preferable to attach a read receipt and delivery notification to your email.

NB. Of course, raising this type of query can ‘tip-off’ an obstructive spouse, who may then be aware that service is being attempted and therefore find ways to keep evading service, in order to delay matters.

Use a Process Server or Personal Service

If you reasonably believe that your spouse has not returned their acknowledgement of service but still resides at the address set out in the petition, personal service, by way of a process server (or court bailiff if you are unrepresented), can be an option. Using a process server ensures that your spouse receives the papers and cannot claim otherwise. Upon successful service, a certificate of service will be completed by the process server and this can be filed in court to proceed with the divorce.

Once the court is satisfied that there has been successful service, then they will order that you can go on to the next stage and make an application for a conditional order.

Apply for Deemed Service

If you are certain that your spouse has received the divorce application but is ignoring it, a separate application can be made to the court to order that service is ‘deemed’ effective. It is recommended to attach evidence (such as text messages, recent use of a particular email inbox, read/delivery receipts, ‘Signed For’ postal delivery receipt, etc.) which proves or suggests that the divorce application has indeed been received.

Apply for a Dispensed Service

Applying for dispensed service removes the need for service altogether. This is typically used in exceptional cases i.e. when all avenues to serve your spouse have been exhausted.

The application will only be granted in limited circumstances therefore it is essential to set out all the steps you have taken to ascertain the whereabouts of your spouse, for example, enquiring with their solicitor, employer or family.

At Rayden Solicitors, we can advise you if you are having difficulties in getting your spouse to cooperate with a divorce. Our specialist divorce lawyers have years of experience in dealing with these types of cases and will be happy to support you through the process.

If you have recently received divorce papers, our guide on how to respond to a divorce petition may be useful.

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If you require assistance with any aspect of Family Law, please contact us on 01727 734260.

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