Having your spouse waive service is the easiest way to start the process of an international divorce when your spouse lives somewhere other than the United States. This means that you can simply send your spouse an affidavit and documentation. Your spouse signs off on the waiver, gets it notarized, and you immediately start working on your divorce terms—just like how a divorce works domestically.
Unfortunately, life isn't so simple. Your international spouse may not cooperate with you and even hide, cutting off all communication. In that case, you'll need to rely on the processes dictated by the Hague Service Convention.
What's the Hague Service Convention? Agreed upon in 1965, the treaty facilitates the sharing of legal documents between countries without added diplomatic bureaucracy. However, that unfortunately doesn't necessarily mean the process goes quickly.
Do Your Best to Locate Your Spouse
You will need to make a best effort to locate your spouse in order to actually serve them your papers. If you don't locate your spouse, you may have more difficulty obtaining an award of alimony, child support, child custody, and assets from the court.
Get as much information as possible about your spouse's last known address through your knowledge, your research, help from friends and family, and cooperation with the local authorities located where your spouse lives.
How the Hague Service Convention Process Works
Assuming you've located your spouse and that the country where they live is part of the Hague Service Convention, the most common legal option under the Hague Convention for Service in another country is to work through its central authority to serve your divorce papers. This process assumes you're not able to use alternative methods.
- File all of your divorce papers as you normally would with your local court, usually in the county where you live.
- Translate your papers into your spouse's country's language, if requested by that country's central authority.
- Fill out the proper United States government paperwork and send your divorce papers to the country's central authority. Your attorney can help you with the exact forms, numbers of copies, and proper process for sending.
- A representative from your spouse's country's central authority will serve the papers to your spouse.
- Once signed by your spouse, those papers return to the United States and you can begin the divorce process.
Obstacles and Roadblocks
Sounds simple, right? It's not. Here are a few obstacles and roadblocks that you need to anticipate.
- It takes a long, long time. It's not unusual for the service to take six months or a year, depending on the country. Bureaucracies often work slowly, and central authorities can take ages compared to even our own judicial system.
- Central authorities often communicate extremely poorly. Did the central authority receive your papers? Where are they in the process? Why aren't they responding to email? It's not unusual to encounter unanswered emails and long periods of silence. You're on that country's central authority's timeframe, and it's often extremely slow.
- Complex logistics may differ from country to country. Each country has its own laws and procedures, which may complicate how you serve your papers. Filing requirements, types of documents, and communication processes may all differ from country to country—and you'll need to work within the parameters of those requirements.
When possible, look for alternate ways to serve your papers. But if you need to work with a country's central authority as part of following the Hague Service Convention, just know that you may need a lot of time and some sunk costs upfront to eventually achieve your goal. Have patience, work with the system—no matter how frustrating— and make sure an attorney helps you through the most difficult challenges. Call us for a consultation if you need an attorney for a case involving the Hague Convention Service.