Why is Serving My Divorce Papers on my Spouse So Important?

So your lawyer keeps making a big deal out of properly serving your divorce papers on your spouse?  And it seems to be taking a while.  You want this over with.  So you call your lawyer, and he persists in telling you that he needs to go through the proper channels to get your spouse served.

Good for your lawyer.

There are many rules (that I won't go into here) involving how to properly serve documents on a party.  The long-story-short of it is that if your spouse is not properly served with the divorce pleadings (Complaint, etc.) in your case then he/she may have an argument down the road to overturn the divorce after its over.  Ouch.  So attorneys are very careful about two initial determinations when they are about to file a divorce action for a client: 1) what is the proper jurisdiction (county)?; and 2) how to serve the opposing party with the divorce filings.

In Arkansas the vast majority of lawsuits are served by one of two methods.  One is by certified mail, return receipt requested.  This means the recipient/defendant of the mail must sign a green card attached to the back of the envelope.  This signed green card is returned to the attorney that sent it.  The attorney will then file it with the court clerk to verify that the defendant has been served.  The other most popular method is to serve the defendant by sheriff or private process server.  This means the sheriff/process server personally finds the defendant and physically hands the lawsuit documents to the defendant.  Then the sheriff/process server fills out a sworn statement stating that the defendant has been served on that date and time.  (A process server in Arkansas is a person certified by the Court to serve pleadings and other court-related documents).

The recent case of Thompson v. Thompson illustrates what happens after a defendant has been properly served, but then the defendant does not file a response in the time allowed for by law.  The Court will usually go forward with the case and render judgment, with or without the defendant's attendance at the court hearing.  Note in the very first paragraph that the Court of Appeals points out that the defendant was served with the Complaint and Summons, yet failed to attend the hearing.

If service had been improper then this case may have had a very different outcome.