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We recently received an email asking for advice about what address to use for service on a divorce petition when the whereabouts of the respondent is unknown.
This interesting question provoked a discussion among the team as this is an area that is often asked about but where the answer is not straightforward. The aim of this post is therefore to help others in similar situations who are searching in vain and unable to find any information in this area.
Firstly, the Family Procedure Rules 2010 state that an applicant must include in the divorce application an address at which the respondent may be served.
As a starting point, it would be advisable to contact your spouse’s solicitor (or former solicitor) to check whether they would be willing to accept service of the petition before entering their details. It is important to do this first because a solicitor’s address cannot be used unless they have specifically agreed to accept service of the petition.
If your spouse’s solicitor responds, confirming that they are advising your spouse and have indicated a willingness to accept service, that method should be used and you can go ahead and enter the solicitor’s details for service.
If they do not respond or are not advising your spouse, the Rules state that where an application cannot be served on the respondent personally or at an address which the respondent has given or on the solicitor, the divorce papers must be served on the respondent at their usual or last known address.
If you are aware that your spouse is or might still be at their usual or last known address, you should enter those details for service.
If you have reason to believe that your spouse no longer lives at their usual or last known address the Rules state that you must take ‘reasonable steps’ to find the current address of your spouse. The Rules direct that you should enquire with relatives, friends, neighbours, former employers and any other person or association who may have some information about the respondent.
If you are unable to establish your spouse’s current address The Family Procedure Rules 2010 require that you must consider whether there is an alternative place or method by which service may be issued – but please be aware that an application cannot be served by fax or by email. If you do get to this point it might be worth considering using the address of a relative or close friend of your spouse or engaging the service of an enquiry agent.
As a very last resort, and this is very rare and exceptional, if your spouse cannot be found an application can be made to Court to dispense with service. In order to do this, you would need to demonstrate that you have exhausted all reasonable avenues in attempting to locate your spouse.
The divorce process is rarely straightforward, and our team of divorce solicitors would be happy to assist you in this area. As well as helping you understand the practicalities of the divorce process, we are also able to support you by making you aware of your options to minimise the emotional impact to you and your family. If you would like to understand more about our approach and the options available to you, find out more here.