No legal case can validly proceed unless the responding party has been properly served with the relevant documents. In a paternity case, this would be the petition for paternity. In divorce, the petition for divorce. A previously blog provided some advice on locating servicemembers to serve papers. Once the member’s location is known, however, s/he must be formally served with the petition. Certain military rules may make this process difficult.
The simplest means of service is to send the documents to the servicemember via mail with an acceptance of service. If the member voluntarily signs and returns the acceptance, service is complete and proper. In some cases, service by certified mail, return receipt, restricted delivery may be sufficient. However, make sure that the return card has the servicemember’s signature, not a civil servant, etc. who opened the mail.
If the member ignores or refuses to accept, it may be helpful to send papers to the member’s superior, with a request to provide them to the member. Note that the military has no obligation to assist with service of papers on a member. The superior may be willing to provide the papers to the member, however, if s/he wishes to accept them.
If the member refuses to accept service, formal, in-person service will be necessary. The spouse must hire a sheriff or private process server to bring the papers to the base and formally serve the member. Again, the military will not serve the papers-the most that the military will do is require the member to be available for service.
Note, however, that the military’s willingness to cooperate with service of papers depends on the jurisdiction. Different rules apply to various state and federal jurisdictions. In particular, the military will not require a member to be available for service of papers originating from a different state than where the member is located. In this instance, service by publication in the local paper of record, or by leaving the papers at the member’s off-base residence in the presence of another adult there, may be sufficient.
For servicemembers who are improperly served, whether through mail or other means, a motion to dismiss or to vacate an order (depending on how far the case has proceeded) can be filed. The specifics of improper service, and the legal requirements, should be clearly laid out in the motion.
The next blog will focus on specifics of various branches of the military regarding service of process.
Attorney David Kowalski routinely handles military divorces for both servicemembers and their spouses. Contact him at 608-405-6624 with any questions.