Tag: acceptance of service

How difficult is it to get a divorce from a spouse who has disappeared?

How difficult is it to get a divorce from a spouse who disappeared +10 years back? No note, no trace, no explanation. If you urgently need to remarry, what processes would one need to prepare for? 

I can’t speak for all jurisdictions, but in Utah (where I practice divorce law), the answer to your question would be: 

  1. It does not matter whether you can find your spouse to serve him/her in person with a summons and complaint for divorce. Why?
  2. Because the law anticipated situations where a potential defendant in a lawsuit might try to hide and avoid service of process in the hope that “If you can’t serve me with the summons and complaint, then you can’t sue me!” How?
  3. By making provision for serving someone who is hiding or avoiding service: 

 Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 4(b)(5)(A) and (B): 

(A) If the identity or whereabouts of the person to be served are unknown and cannot be ascertained through reasonable diligence, if service upon all of the individual parties is impracticable under the circumstances, or if there is good cause to believe that the person to be served is avoiding service, the party seeking service may file a motion to allow service by some other means. An affidavit or declaration supporting the motion must set forth the efforts made to identify, locate, and serve the party, or the circumstances that make it impracticable to serve all of the individual parties. 

(B) If the motion is granted, the court will order service of the complaint and summons by means reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise the named parties of the action. The court’s order must specify the content of the process to be served and the event upon which service is complete. Unless service is by publication, a copy of the court’s order must be served with the process specified by the court. 

This means that you could obtain leave from the court to serve your spouse by a certified mailing of the summons and complaint to your spouse’s last known address, or by a having a copy of the summons and complaint delivered by FedEx or UPS to your spouse’s last known address, or by emailing a copy of the summons and complaint to your spouse’s last known e-mail address, or by sending an instant message or text message to your spouse notifying him/her that a divorce action has been filed in court against him/her and directing him/her to obtain and review a copy that is in file with the court, or (although this happens a lot less), publishing the summons in a newspaper of general circulation in the county in which publication is required. 

4. After your hiding/disappeared spouse has been served by one of the alternate means provided in Rule 4(d), if your spouse does not file a responsive pleading within the time given to do so, then you can apply for entry of your spouse’s default and request entry of default judgment against your absentee spouse.  

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277  


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Do I need to show up for court if I was never served papers?

Do I need to show up for court if I was never served papers? I live in South Carolina.

I cannot speak for or about the jurisdiction of South Carolina because I practice law in Utah (so you need to inquire with a lawyer who is licensed to practice in South Carolina), but I can tell you a few things as a general rule of thumb: 

  • Many people are under the mistaken belief that “if they don’t give me them court papers first, the court is powerless to do anything to me”. Not true. Good faith, duly diligent efforts to effectuate service of process on you or at least—depending on the proceedings—notice to you is generally required before court action can be taken against you, but if, despite duly diligent efforts to locate you or chase you down to hand you “them court papers,” you cannot be found or served, there are other ways that a court will deem you to have been served and/or put on notice. 
  • If you hide in an effort to evade service/notice, the court will take that into account and hold that against you. No one can game the system this way. When that happens, the court can order that service on you be accomplished through alternative means. Such as? For example:
    • the court could order that notice be mailed to your last known address (if you’re not there, that’s your problem, not the court’s); 
    • the court could order that notice be given in the form of an email or text message (to your last-known email address or phone number; if the email address or phone number used is not an address or number you use anymore, that’s your problem, not the court’s); 
    • the court could order that notice be given in the form of an instant message to an open social media account of yours (if you don’t use it anymore, but didn’t close it, that’s your problem, not the court’s); 
    • courts could (as they did frequently in the past, but not so much nowadays) give notice by publishing a notice in the “legal notices”” section of the newspaper (kids, for those of you too young to know what a newspaper is, you can click here) 
  • So if you think that avoiding service of process or closing your eyes and ears to notice is going to thwart the court or the opposing party, the joke’s on you. 
  • If you think you don’t have to appear in court merely because you didn’t receive service of process or notice (or more accurately, did your darnedest to ensure you didn’t get service or notice), again, the joke’s on you.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277 

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Does the respondent get a copy of a restraining order?

Yes, the respondent gets one, as long as the respondent can be found so that he/she can be handed, mailed, or electronically provided with a copy. Indeed, if a respondent is not provided with a copy of the restraining order (or not deemed to have been served with a copy), it can be argued that the restraining order cannot be enforced against the respondent, or at least that the respondent cannot be punished for not complying with an order of which he/she had no notice. However, remember that there are two kinds of “notice”. Actual notice and constructive notice. With constructive notice, it is possible to be “deemed” to be on notice without having any personal possession or knowledge of the notice. 

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277  

Constructive notice legal definition of constructive notice ( 

Actual Notice legal definition of Actual Notice ( 

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