Serving an Absent Party

The end of a marriage or long term relationship is a difficult time for both sides.  In most cases, one of the first steps taken by the spouses or partners is to establish two separate households.  After this physical separation, the parties may keep in contact, especially if they share children, but in some cases, the parties may lose touch.  When this happens before the divorce or custody action has been filed, the remaining party may be left wondering how to move forward.

In every civil case, one of the essential first steps is serving the other party with the pleadings.  This is a crucial step in the process as it provides the defendant with actual notice that there is a lawsuit pending, and gives the defendant the chance to appear and defend against the suit.  In most cases, the defendant in a civil suit, such as a divorce or custody action, will be personally served, meaning he or she will be physically handed the papers.  In some cases, certified mail or substitute service (i.e., leaving the papers at the defendant’s home with a person over the age of fourteen) may also be used.  However, if the defendant is totally absent and you do not know his or her place of work or residence to obtain personal service, you may have to resort to service by publication.

If the defendant in your case is being evasive to dodge service or you simply cannot locate him or her, you can ask for permission to complete service by publication.  To go forward with service by publication, you will need to demonstrate to a judge that you have made a good faith effort to locate the defendant, but have been unable to do so.  Good faith efforts include sending letters to the defendant’s family or past employers, the Motor Vehicle Commission in the state where the defendant last had a driver’s license, branches of the military, and the post office in the town where the defendant was last known to reside.  Each of these letters needs to include a self-addressed stamped envelope.  If there is no reply and no success in locating the defendant after taking necessary steps, the court can authorize the service by publication.  This means that you will need to run an ad in the local newspaper for a time length ordered by the divorce court.  The defendant will then have a bit more time to file a response before you can file a default motion and move forward with your divorce in the defendant’s absence.  Keep in mind this is a rough overview, and the requirements for successfully requesting service by publication are highly technical.  Failure to meet those requirements could mean your service is not properly completed and you cannot receive a divorce.

We have extensive experience helping our clients with all stages of divorce at all levels of complexity.  Call us today to talk about your case.

Are you interested in seeking an annulment? If so, contact Williams Law Group, LLC right away. Our family law attorneys will review your case to determine if an annulment is an option. If it is, we will guide you through the process and ensure you make the best decisions for your future. Call our office at (908) 738-8512, email us, or contact us through our confidential online form to schedule a consultation

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