How Do I Serve My Spouse with Divorce Papers in Utah?
The law affords everyone due process." In plain English, this means that before you can sue someone, you have to first tell them what you want and why.
Yes – divorce is a lawsuit!
What does "serving" your spouse with divorce mean in Utah, and how can I do it?
Since divorce is technically a lawsuit, your spouse must receive a notice (via "service") that you have filed suit as well as notice of what exactly you are suing them for. In other words, you have to tell your spouse the legal reason for your requested divorce. If you do not get your spouse properly served, your case could be delayed or dismissed.
After being served, if the respondent spouse would like to file an answer, they must do so within 21 days of filing the Acceptance of Service with the court if they were served in Utah and 30 days if they were served outside of Utah.
Signing a stipulation
The ideal and easiest divorce path would be for your spouse to sign a stipulation confirming that they agree to the terms of the petition, meaning that you and your spouse already agree on all the issues (diving property, custody terms, etc.). If so, not only can you skip the need to serve your spouse, but you can also both skip the financial disclosures. Additionally, your spouse will be able to avoid the work and hassle of filing an answer and paying the filing fee.
What are the ways you can serve your spouse in Utah?
If your spouse agrees with the terms set in your petition and is willing to waive their legal rights to participate in the process (because they don't need to participate since they already agree to the terms), the "Acceptance of Service, Appearance, Consent, and Waiver" form is a great option. This form states that the respondent agrees to everything outlined in the divorce petition and does not wish to file an answer or response to it. The petitioner (filing spouse) provides the waiver to the respondent along with all of the papers, by mail or hand delivery. The respondent must sign the document in front of a notary and return it to the petitioner, who then files it with the court.
Acceptance of Service
The simplest way to serve documents upon the respondent is if they sign an "Acceptance of Service" form first, which bypasses the costs associated with formal service. This means that they agree to be informally served; you do not have to follow the strict service requirements that must be followed for other forms of service (such as for personal service or service by registered mail). Under this option, the documents can be hand-delivered by you (or anyone else over the age of 18 who is not involved in your divorce), sent by regular mail, or by email.
The respondent must then sign the Acceptance of Service form and file it with the court (or give it to you to file on their behalf), and they must also provide you with a copy of the signed form. This form does not affect the respondent's rights, such as their right to file an Answer to the Petition. If the respondent spouse would like to file an answer, they must do so within 21 days of filing the Acceptance of Service with the court if they were served in Utah and 30 days if they were served outside of Utah.
Personal service is completed by a 1) third party who is not a party to the divorce and also not an attorney for either party in the case; and 2) that person must be 18 years or older and not convicted of a felony or a respondent in a protective order proceeding. This is typically completed by a process server, which requires a fee. You can also hire the Sheriff's Department or someone you know who meets the requirements and knows the rules of service to perform the duty of serving your spouse.
A Proof of Completed Service must be filed with the court. This requires the person who completed service to provide details of how they served the documents.
Service by registered mail
Service by registered mail is another option. It requires that the respondent must personally sign for the delivery of the documents. If someone other than the respondent signs, this does not qualify as service. Like personal service, a Proof of Completed Service must be filed with the court. A receipt signed by the respondent must be attached as proof.
What if you can't find your spouse no matter how hard you've tried? What if you think they're trying to avoid being served? You might need to file a Motion for Alternative Service. This form asks the court for permission to use alternative methods. You'll have to demonstrate that you did your due diligence, and unfortunately, it's not enough to say you don't know where they are. You'll have to outline all of the ways in which you tried to reach them, such as contacting your spouse's friends and family, going to their last known place of work, or even having done internet searches.
You'll also need to explain the alternative methods that would be most likely to work in order to give notice to your spouse. This could be through the use of text messages, email, social media, or posting on the Utah Press Association's Legal Notices page online. Another way, though antiquated, is by publishing in the legal notices section of a newspaper once a week for a number of weeks.
If the judge grants you an alternative service, you'll have to follow their requirements exactly. You'll also need to file a "Proof of Service by Alternative Means" form and return it to the court. Examples of what constitutes proof can be found here.
Have Questions About Divorce? Don't Know Where to Start?