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Service of papers in family law

divorce papers

Recently in the news, actress Olivia Wilde was served court papers relating to custody of her two children whilst promoting her new movie. Service of documents in family court proceedings is a crucial part in ensuring the process runs smoothly.

What does service actually mean?

The court often says in family and divorce proceedings that documents such as statements and applications must be filed and served. When you are told to file a document, this means that you must send the document to the court by the set date and time. Service is different as it means that you have to send the papers to every other party in the proceedings, usually your former partner or their solicitor.

When you are in court proceedings you must make sure that you comply with all orders that the court makes and make sure that the documents are both filed and served.

There are different ways in which service of divorce and family court documents can be effected, as set out in the table below:

Method of Service Time it is Deemed Served
First class post The second day after it is posted
Hand-Delivering or Leaving it in person The same day (if done before 4.30pm) or the next day if done after
Email The same day (if done before 4.30pm) or the next day if done after

The court can also specify that the documents need to be sent via personal service, or you can choose to send the papers this way. This method means that you must arrange for the document to be handed to the other party in person. This is usually ordered by the court where one party was not at a court hearing or where they are choosing to try and avoid the court proceedings.

If you can afford to do so, you will need to instruct a Process Server who serves papers as their job. They are provided with all of the information required such as name, address and photographs of the person and then they will write a statement to the court to confirm.

In the event that you are not able to afford a Process Server, you are able to request that a court bailiff personally serves the papers. This requires completing a form and paying a fee into the court but it can take a considerable amount of time to process, which is not usually appropriate when you are in live court proceedings.

There are considerations that you need to make when arranging personal service, for example it is not ideal to serve someone whilst they are at work and instead it may be better to serve them at their home.

Service of documents in family proceedings is a very important and complex issue that can drastically impact the progression of your case and so it is crucial that you seek legal advice from a specialist family law solicitor to help you with the process.

For specialist advice on any family law related issue contact Maguire Family Law by email: or telephone:

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