Serving a military member stationed overseas with Wisconsin divorce or other family court papers must be handled carefully. Service must comply with United States federal and state court procedures. It is also wise to review service requirements or restrictions of the foreign country. For example, unlike the United States, some countries may restrict who can actually serve legal papers. Violation of such rules could even result in criminal charges in the host country.
If the host country is a signatory to the Hague Convention of the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters, the rules for service in each country are clarified. Each Hague country has established a “Central Authority” to assist with service of documents from another country. The Authority will review the request for compliance and, if correct, the Authority arranges for service. Once service is complete, the Authority provides a certificate of service.
Signatories to this Hague Convention are located at https://www.hcch.net/en/instruments/conventions/status-table/?cid=17
Hague Convention requirements for service abroad take precedence over US state options. For example, Wisconsin does not require translation of papers into a foreign language. However, if the host country does, service will not be valid without translation. If translation is necessary, proceed with formal, valid translation. It is not enough to get it “mostly right,” or have a friend translate. The translator must be recognized with some form of certificate, legitimate experience, work history, etc. that indicates he/she is trustworthy in the event that the respondent later questions the accuracy of the translation.
Of course, the simplest means of obtaining service on an overseas military member is his/her voluntary acceptance of the papers. This is accomplished by sending the papers to him/her through mail, email, or perhaps even social media. The servicemember must sign and return an acceptance of service, which should be filed with the court immediately upon receipt. This procedure does not involve a process server, Central Authority, etc., and thus should be acceptable regardless of Hague involvement.
Attorney David Kowalski routinely handles military divorces for both servicemembers and their spouses. Contact him at 608-709-5000 with any questions.