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International Process Service in Family Law Matters

19 Oct 2021 11:58 AM | Deleted user

By DGR, AAML NJ Silver Sponsor

Generally speaking, all legal matters are at least somewhat time-sensitive. While some cases are truly urgent (and others aren’t), individuals tend to initiate legal action because they are seeking a resolution—and attorneys want to keep matters moving so that they can collect payment and manage internal workflows. In other words, nobody is happy when a case drags on and on. 

Although they may not come with a set-in-stone deadline, family law matters tend to fall on the “more urgent” side of the spectrum. Whether they involve child support, custody arrangements, asset division, alimony, or something else entirely, these cases have a particularly profound effect on people’s lives, and they are also frequently of a personal or sensitive nature. It benefits both attorneys and clients to effectuate process services as quickly and efficiently as possible.

So what happens when a family law matter involves serving papers in another country? International service of process is complex, and it can take time to complete. How much time exactly (and the quickest way to conduct the service) depends on the country involved. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution: different countries allow service to be completed through different channels, and there are exceptions, additions, and little quirks and nuances to every national system. 

When handling international service of process in a family law matter, it’s particularly important to work with an experienced process server who can help you identify the best method of service for your specific situation, navigate the existing system in the relevant country, and quickly and effectively troubleshoot when things go awry. 

Methods of international service

Broadly speaking, there are three primary ways to effectuate service abroad: service via agent, service through the Hague Service Convention, or service via Letters Rogatory. Service via agent is sometimes referred to as “the informal method,” while the other two methods of service are known as formal methods. Different countries allow service in different ways. 

Using the Hague Service Convention

The Hague Convention was established in 1965 in order to create an avenue for service outside of diplomatic channels, reducing the amount of time needed to effectuate service. 

If a country is a signatory to the Hague Service Convention, you can pursue service through this route. Currently, the Convention has over 70 signatories.

Servicing under this method is a multi-step process:

  1. A “letter of request” is completed and sent to the appropriate central authority along with all necessary documentation

  2. The central authority reviews the documents before submitting them to the local court that has jurisdiction over the defendant.

  3. The local court sends service to an individual to serve the document, then submits documentation to the central authority indicating service was effectuated.

  4. The central authority completes paperwork verifying service 

  5. The central authority forwards the documentation back to the United States

Service of process through the Hague Service Convention takes, on average, three to six months.

Using Letters Rogatory

Not all countries are signatories to the Hague Service Convention. If you need to complete service in a country that isn’t a signatory, Letter Rogatory will likely be the avenue you use. Letters Rogatory is a request to complete service in accordance with another country’s internal rules and regulations. This method uses diplomatic channels and relies on foreign courts to complete service. 

Once the foreign court receives the Letters Rogatory request, they can decide to comply with the request or deny it. If the foreign court agrees to grant the request, service is then completed under the local rules of their jurisdiction.

Service via agent

Also known as the “informal” method, service via agent is the quickest method available for effectuating services of process. The catch? Service via agent doesn’t produce an enforceable judgment—think of it more as means of notification. If you need to let somebody know that they’ve been served, service via agent can accomplish this in a matter of weeks. If you need the country in which this service is completed to recognize or enforce a judgment, however, this method is not appropriate.

Additionally, some countries do not allow service via this method. Check with your international process server to be sure. 

Best practices for international service of process in family law matters

If you need to papers internationally in a family law matter, it’s key to work with a process server who has experience effectuating service in the country in which you need to serve. 

You can also help expedite service by gathering as much information as you can about the location of the individual you need to serve. Depending on the country involved (and the method of service used), an exact address might also be needed to determine the translation requirements to which your request is subject. 

Starting the process

If you need to effectuate service internationally, it can be hard to know where to start—and for family law matters, where your client’s personal relationships and financial future may be at stake—it’s critical to keep the process moving. 

If you have questions about serving abroad, we can help. DGR has experience effectuating service in over 100 countries, and we’re committed to getting the job done as efficiently as possible (and keeping you informed at every step of the way). 

Contact us to get started. We’re here to help.

AAML New Jersey

215 East Ridgewood Ave, Suite 201

Ridgewood, NJ 07450


Office: (201) 445-7007

Email: contact@aamlnj.org
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