My husband/wife is ignoring my divorce petition. What can I do?

If your husband or wife refuses to acknowledge service of the divorce petition you have served on them, there are steps you can take. In this article, I look at what these are.

If you believe the respondent has received the petition but is ignoring it, you can apply to the court for "deemed service".

It is not unusual for people to refuse to accept that their marriage is over and that their husband or wife wants a divorce. Even when served with a divorce petition, some people prefer to bury their head in the sand and pretend it isn't happening. Or, they simply want to cause their soon-to-be ex maximum aggravation.

The court requires a respondent to a divorce petition to acknowledge service within 14 days. If they fail to do this and you are the petitioner, there are steps you can take.

The first thing to consider is which of the five facts you have relied on in your petition. If it that you have been separated for two years, you will only be able to do so with your spouse's consent. If they are ignoring the petition it would seem obvious that they are not likely to give this consent, so you will need to amend your petition.

Similarly, where people rely on their spouse's adultery, it is quite common for the spouse who has committed adultery to admit this rather than defend the claim in court proceedings. But, if your spouse is not playing ball and not acknowledging the petition you would only proceed with a claim of adultery if you have sufficient evidence of their adultery to present to the court.

In both these instances, it may be better to base your petition on your partner's unreasonable behavior.

Application for deemed service

A petition will normally be served by post to the respondent's last known address. In most cases, applicants know where their spouse is living, and the petition is simply posted to them.

If you believe the respondent has received the petition but is ignoring it, you can apply to the court for "deemed service". If the court issues such as an order, it treats the petition as having been served and you can proceed with the next steps in the divorce. You would usually make an application for deemed service if you have some evidence you can show the court that the petition has been received by your spouse, such as a letter, text message or email.

Personal service

Another option is to serve the petition personally on the respondent using either the court bailiff or a process server. If you are making the court application in person (rather than through a solicitor) you will usually apply to the court for the court bailiff to serve the petition. The fee for this is £110. You would need to show that you have unsuccessfully tried to serve the petition by post. If you have a solicitor acting for you, they will engage a process server to carry out personal service.

Once service has been carried out, the bailiff or process server will file a certificate of service with the court confirming that service on the respondent has taken place. You can then proceed with the divorce without requiring the respondent to have issued an acknowledgement of service.

Applying to dispense with service

In rare situations, you can apply to the court to dispense with service. This would be the case if you have no idea where the respondent is living or where they can be found. You would need to supply the court with evidence of the efforts you have taken to find them such as contacting their place of work, family and friends. You would need to satisfy the court that your enquiries have been extensive, and you have taken all reasonable steps to locate them.

If you have any queries in relation to divorce, please contact me Mark Goldstein at [email protected].