How to Serve a Spouse with Divorce Papers in another Country

After you file for divorce, you must properly serve your spouse with a copy of your summons and petition regardless of where they reside. When your spouse lives out of the country there are additional procedures you must follow in order to ensure the service of these documents is proper. The type of service which is required depends on the country which your spouse resides and whether it recognizes the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters (“Hague Service Convention’).  

If your spouse resides in a country which is a party to the Hague Service Convention, the process is much simpler. The Convention established a simplified means for parties to effect service in other complying countries. Under the convention, each complying country is required to designate a central authority to accept incoming requests for service. A judicial officer who is competent to serve process in the country of origin is permitted to send service of process directly to the central authority of the country where service is to be made. Parties are required to use three standardized forms when seeking service of divorce papers for an international divorce: a request for service, a summary of the proceedings (similar to a summons), and a certificate of service.

Notably, the Hague Service Convention does not prohibit a receiving country from permitting international service by methods otherwise authorized by domestic law. For example, a state could allow for service directly by personal service.

When your spouse resides in a country which is not a party to the Hague Service Convention, diplomatic channels are generally used for the service of legal documents which can be used for international family law matters. It is generally effected by a letter rogatory, which is a formal request to issue a judicial order from a court in the country where proceedings are underway to a court in another country. This procedure generally requires transmission of the document to be served from the originating court to the foreign ministry in the country of origin.

The main benefits of the Hague Service Convention over letters rogatory is that it is faster (requests generally take two to four months rather than six months to one year), it uses standardized forms, and it is cheaper (in most cases) because service can be effected by a local attorney.