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Three Things to Consider When Serving Your Spouse with Divorce Documents

Many clients seeking a divorce (called dissolution in Washington) come into our office ready get things started. By the time they’ve come to us they’ve often already done the hard work of deciding that they are emotionally prepared to leave their spouse. They are anxious to get the legal process started, and want to know how they get their spouse served. Some are worried about how their spouse may react to service. Most think of movies they’ve seen where someone knocks on the (soon-to-be-former) spouse’s door and tells them: “You’ve been served.” The served spouse usually looks shocked, angry, sad, or a combination of all three. While for some family law clients these are the responses they desire, most want a more discreet approach. There are ways to initiate your dissolution process without undue embarrassment, surprise or anger:

  1. Think about the kids. It is usually best to plan a time to serve your spouse when he or she will not have the children. (In fact, it is hard to imagine a time when it would be a good idea to serve your spouse in front of your children.) In addition to saving your spouse from the experience of being served in front of the children, you are also saving the children from the confusion and concern likely to occur as a result of seeing mom or dad served. Furthermore, it may please a decision-maker whom is made aware of extra steps being taken to protect the kids.
  2. Consider who else might bear witness to service. Serving your spouse at work or in another public place is not likely to start things off in a friendly fashion. If you’re trying to preserve goodwill between spouses, consider having your spouse served at home at a time you know they will be alone. Also, serving your spouse at work may affect their employment. This is an important consideration as both parties’ ability to earn will be considered in your dissolution negotiations and/or litigation.
  3. Consider asking the other party to join. If you and your spouse agree about what issues need to be resolved during the dissolution process, you might consider having him or her join in the petition. When the petitioner and respondent join in a petition it means that both parties are asking the court to resolve some issues (though you are free to negotiate and resolve things outside the courtroom). No one needs to be served because you both participate in filing the petition. In addition to saving your spouse from the emotional toll of being served, you can also save yourself money and time (You will not have to pay someone to serve your spouse, and the 90-day waiting period begins when the petition is filed.). There may be other ramifications to signing a joinder that should be discussed with your family law attorney.

We would be remiss not to point out that these modes of service only work in certain cases. Sometimes the element of surprise is part of a legal strategy that seeks to protect a party’s interests (safety, financial or otherwise). Sometimes, it is impossible to find a time for service that the spouse will not have an audience of either children or coworkers. As with all legal questions, this is one that should be discussed with a qualified family law attorney who understands your individual circumstances. Please contact us with your family law issues.