What to do if your spouse ignores the divorce Petition

by Nadine de Souza

To begin a divorce you need to draft a divorce Petition which sets out the reasons why you want to get divorced. It's a good idea to send a draft copy of this document to your spouse before you serve it on them. This could just help to diffuse any unpleasantness, you can agree between you what the Petition is going to say and it gives you a chance to see how cooperative your spouse is likely to be.

The court is responsible for sending the divorce Petition and any other accompanying documents to your spouse. You need to give the court your spouse’s correct address. The court will send you a Notice of Issue of Petition to let you know that the Petition has been sent to your spouse. You will usually get this about a week after you give your Petition to the court. The court posts the Petition to your spouse using first-class post. You then just have to wait and see if your spouse responds.

Of course you hope that your spouse responds to the divorce paperwork promptly, but what do you do if you hear nothing from your spouse in response to the divorce Petition? Your spouse has seven days from the day the Petition is received to return the Acknowledgment of Service form. This form allows your spouse to say that they’ve received the Petition and whether they wish to defend the divorce or not. If your spouse lives abroad, then they get more time to respond. If, after this time has passed, you still receive no response from them, then it could be because the Petition wasn't received for some reason, or that it's being ignored.

If the court wasn’t able to deliver the Petition, then they will let you know by sending you a Notice of Non-Service of Petition. The court will know that the Petition hasn't been delivered because the Post Office will return the Petition to the court. You then have to find your spouse’s correct address and let the court know so that it can try to deliver it again.

If it appears that the Petition was delivered but is being ignored, then you have to pick another method of service so that you can prove that the Petition has been received. You have four choices:

  1. Personal service;
  2. Deemed service;
  3. Application for service by an alternative method or at an alternative place; or
  4. Application to dispense with service.

Personal service

It's possible to ask the court bailiff to serve the divorce paperwork for you. If he agrees then his costs are reasonable, usually about £40. He won’t agree to serve the papers if you’ve got a lawyer acting for you. A Request for Service by the Court Bailiff (Form D89) is available from the court or www.justice.gov.uk/forms. You need to give the court a recent photo of your spouse and a description of them. If the service is successful, then the bailiff will file a Certificate of Service at court. If he can’t serve the papers, then he will file a Certificate of Non-Service. In this case you will have to choose another method of proving service.

If you can’t get the court bailiff to serve the paperwork for you, then you need to instruct a process server to do it. You can find them in the Yellow Pages or on the internet. The process server will need a new copy of the divorce Petition (sealed by the court), Statement of Arrangements for Children (if any), Notice of Proceedings (provided by the court) and a blank Acknowledgment of Service form (provided by the court). The process server will also need a recent photo and description of your spouse. If service is successful, then the process server will file a Certificate of Service confirming that personal service has taken place.

Deemed service

If your spouse has responded in some way, such as saying in an email, letter or post on Facebook that he’s received the Petition, then you can use this information to prove that he’s received the Petition. You can file it at court with an Application Notice (Form D11) and a court fee and ask the court for an order for deemed service.

Application for service by an alternative method or at an alternative place

It may be that you think that there is more chance of your spouse receiving the Petition if it's served at another address (e.g. their parents’ house). You can apply for an order saying this using Application Form (Form D11). You have to file a court fee and the accompanying documents.

Application to dispense with service

You can use this method if all attempts at service have failed. This application can be made in Form D11. You will also need to complete a statement in Form D13B.

Help from Lawpack

All the divorce forms you need – and expert guidance on how to use them – can be found in Lawpack’s Separation & DIY Divorce Kit.

If you need assistance in completing the forms, then you can use our DIY Divorce Service who will complete them for you. With our Managed Divorce Service they will complete them and also file them at court for you.

If you want more in-depth information from a divorce lawyer about all aspects of divorce law then read our guide, How to Get a Divorce by Punam Denley. Packed with tips and expert advice to ensure that you get through the divorce process smoothly.

Other information

Published on: August 12, 2014

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