How to Serve Divorce Papers in England & Wales

Divorce in the UK can be hard and even the most amicable separations can be tense. However, the actual process is relatively simple, as long as problems don’t occur when the divorce papers are being served. So, how are divorce papers served in England and Wales?

Do I need a solicitor when serving divorce papers?

Although you are not legally required to have a solicitor when serving divorce papers, having the support of a solicitor can be invaluable. 

Your solicitor can deal with the divorce papers for you, liaising fully with your ex-partners solicitors and the courts to ensure everything is running as it should be. 

How to serve divorce papers in England and Wales

In England and Wales, the court will normally serve the divorce papers to the respondent through the post, as long as they don’t live abroad. If the respondent does live abroad, it is then your responsibility as the applicant to serve the respondent the divorce papers which can be done via email or post initially. 

Who can legally serve divorce papers?

As we’ve mentioned, the court will usually serve the divorce papers, but if the respondent does not co-operate and return the Acknowledgement of Service, process servers can be instructed to serve the divorce papers for you. 

A process server will essentially do all of the hard work for you. All you need to do is provide them with the divorce papers and as much information as possible to enable them to serve your divorce papers, such as a photograph of your spouse and an address of where to find them. 

What to serve the respondent in divorce proceedings

There are a few papers you will need to serve in divorce proceedings, and these include:

  • A copy of the Divorce Application 
  • A Notice of Issue
  • An Acknowledgement
  • Notice of acting if you have a solicitor representing you

Always remember to keep the original copies of every document involved in the divorce proceedings to make sure everything is running as smoothly as possible. 

When to serve the respondent in divorce proceedings

The divorce should be served on the respondent as soon as possible after the Court has issued the divorce.

You can learn more about what happens after divorce papers are served in our full guide.

How long will serving a respondent in divorce proceedings take?

Once your application for divorce has been sent off, you will be sent a notice when your application has been properly received and issued. Depending on how you’ve applied, it can take up to 10 days for an online application or up to a month for an application by post. 

Once these papers have been received by you and your spouse, your spouse has 14 days to respond to say whether they agree to the divorce. 

What to do if you can’t find the respondent to serve divorce papers

Sometimes it can be tricky to serve the divorce papers when the respondent doesn’t want to be served them and has taken to hiding or leaving their home to avoid being served. 

At VM Family Law, we can help to locate your spouse in a legal and timely manner to ensure the divorce papers are served. 

If your spouse refuses to co-operate and does not return the Acknowledgement of Service or cannot be located, there are several options you can take:

  • You can apply for Deemed Service
  • You can apply for Substituted Service
  • You can apply to Dispense with Service
  • You can apply for Disclosure Orders from HMRC

You will need to discuss these options with your solicitor and decide which steps are best for you to take depending on your personal circumstances. 

Can divorce papers be served at work?

Yes, your spouse can be served anywhere, including at work. 

Can divorce papers be served over social media?

Yes, as of 2011 you can legally serve divorce papers over social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook but would need a court order to do so. In 2009, the High Court rules allowed for an injunction to be served through an indirect message on Twitter, but only as a last resort. 

If you have exhausted all attempts of reaching your ex and have tried in person, via email and they have all come to no avail, contacting them over social media may be your last valid resort but you would need the Court’s permission to serve via social media. 

Can divorce papers be served by email?

Yes, you can serve divorce papers via email. 

How divorce papers are served outside of England & Wales

If you wish to divorce your spouse, but they no longer live in the UK, you can serve the divorce papers digitally. 

However, if your spouse fails to respond to the Acknowledgement of Service, it will be necessary to arrange the papers to be served through a process server, which can cause further delays if it is to be served internationally. 

Our goal is to help our clients solve their family legal matters as smoothly as possible.

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