Articles Tagged with service

The first pleading in a family law case usually has to be served upon (not just mailed) the other party. In general, this means that the other party will need hand delivered the initial documents by someone of suitable age and discretion (This person cannot be a party to the suit.). (After a case has been initiated, some pleadings can be provided to the other party by mail, fax, or even email [upon agreement].) Service of the initial pleadings can set the tone of the case. There are some legal requirements for service, but these are not the only things to consider when serving the other party. Here are some other considerations:

  1. Where are your kids? If you are serving the other party, and you share children with that person, you will probably want to make sure they are served when the children are not present. It is unlikely that service in front of the children would ever help your case (or your kids).
  2. Where is the other party at the time of service? In family law cases involving money (which is most of them) you want to be sure that serving the other party does not negatively impact their ability to earn money. Getting served at work can be embarrassing, but it can also reflect negatively on the person being served. Others might not know that the service is in regard to a family law case, and may assume the worst. If the other party ends up out of a job, it can impact your case.
  3. Is the other party going to leave town? Service becomes more difficult if the other party is not in the state (and even more difficult if they are not in the country). If you know the other party is about to leave town, it is important to tell your attorney that at your first meeting. Your attorney may advise that you quickly draft initial pleadings and have the other party served before s/he leaves town.
  4. Is there another way? In some cases where parties agree that there is a legal issue to be resolved, parties can join in a petition. If the other party joins in the petition, there is no need to serve that person. This can avoid embarrassment for the party, and can start proceedings off amicably.

How and when someone is served is something you will want to discuss with your family law attorney. Please contact us if you would like to discuss this, or any other family law issue, with an attorney at  our firm.

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.

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