What to Know About Serving Papers on an Active Duty Service member

October 28, 2019

If you’re filing for divorce from an active duty service member in the United States military, there are a few differences in the processes you’ll use to serve the paperwork compared to how you’d normally go about the process in a standard divorce. You’ll need to be aware of the federal rules for the process, as well as Florida’s state-specific guidelines.

Here’s an overview of what you’ll need to know. Reach out to a divorce lawyer in Miami, FL for more information.

Serving paperwork

One factor that goes into the service of the paperwork is the Service members Civil Relief Act (SCRA), which offers military personnel some protection from civil proceedings that might adversely affect their rights while in active duty. It will be much easier to accomplish service of the divorce papers while the service member is still in the United States versus while they’re deployed or stationed in another country.

When a plaintiff seeks to serve a defendant with a divorce petition while they’re still in the United States and living off base, they follow state law. In Florida, for example, a plaintiff seeking a divorce must meet the residency requirement of six months. However, there are exceptions to the residency requirement for members of the military—service members do not need to prove the six-month residency requirement before a divorce can be granted.

The process becomes more difficult when the defendant is stationed overseas. The plaintiff will need to get the defendant’s voluntary acceptance of the divorce, which may be difficult depending on where the defendant is stationed and the kind of work they are doing for the military. If the plaintiff is able to get in touch with the defendant and the defendant refuses to provide consent to the divorce, the plaintiff can ask the court to appoint someone to serve papers via the Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters (also known as the Hague Service Convention).

Keep in mind that a defendant overseas cannot be served by process of publication—that is only allowable when there is an unknown address. Postal service via registered or certified mail is also not allowed unless the country in which the service member is stationed allows divorce paperwork to be served in such a manner. This means you’ll also need to have some knowledge of divorce laws in the other country.

The purpose of many of the protections afforded to service members by SCRA is to prevent them from having to worry about unfair legal actions while they are deployed, so they can focus on the duties they have at hand. Courts can delay legal proceedings so long as the service member is still on active duty, and the proceeding can only continue 60 days following the completion of active duty.

For plaintiffs, then, the best bet is to wait until active duty has been completed and the defendant is back in the United States to begin the divorce process. For more information, contact a divorce lawyer in Miami, FL at the Law Offices of Granoff & Kessler today.

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