The situation sometimes arises when one party to a divorce or other family law matter is a non-resident of Texas who resides in another country and it is imperative that you hire an attorney who has experience in this area if you are in such a situation. It is important to follow the procedures for service overseas so as to avoid any judgment that you may obtain at the trial court level from being declared void.
Why is Service Necessary?
Each party to a lawsuit is constitutionally entitled to notice that a lawsuit has been initiated against them. This is in order that they may properly defend themselves. You can imagine the chaos that would ensue if people could sue others without telling them and then win by default when the other party doesn't answer.
Why is It Important that Foreign Countries have Procedures in Place for Service of Process?
Previously, there were confusing and conflicting rules in place for individual countries regarding how to serve residents of those countries. A complicated and time consuming process using letters rogatory was formerly the status quo and that process is time consuming and expensive and in many cases a foreign attorney had to be hired. The Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters (The Hague Service Convention) seeks to streamline the process and to provide a uniform way to serve process on people who are residents of countries that are contracting parties to the convention and to lower the time and expense needed to serve a party overseas. Not every country is a signatory to the convention so it is important to verify if the person you want to serve is a resident of a country that is a signatory. There are over 70 states that are contracting parties of the Hague Service Convention. It is also important to note that if the address of the person is unknown the Hague Service Convention does not apply.
How does the Hague Service Convention work?
The Hague Service Convention is a treaty in which many countries including the United States are a signatory. In general, this treaty imposes on its signatories specific rules that must be followed for service of process to be valid. Each country who is a signatory to the convention must designate a central authority in which legal documents to be served must be sent. The central authority then arranges for service on the non-resident individual by a method that is permitted within that receiving country. This can take time, but it is an effective way to put another party on notice that a lawsuit has been initiated against them and it must be followed.
Is there any other way to serve process on a person overseas that is compliant with the Hague but is not through the designated central authority?
Yes, Article 10 of the convention provides permissible alternative methods of service such as through postal channels. However, before you breathe a sigh of relief you should be fully aware that the country in question may have objected to some or all of the alternative methods of service under Article 10 so you must find out if this is the case before using any alternative method of service. For example, India has objected to all forms of alternative service under Article 10. Do not think that if a party has actual notice of a lawsuit that you are automatically off the hook from following the terms of the convention.
If you seek to divorce or litigate a family law matter against a person who is a resident of a foreign country then you should obtain counsel who has dealt with this issue previously and can adequately safeguard your rights. It will be a very frustrating, time consuming, and expensive to have a judgment overturned because the proper procedures were not followed regarding service under the Hague Service Convention. If you need more guidance in your specific matter then I encourage you to call the Law Office of Chad Zubi to help resolve your issue. The office offers free 30 minute consultations and will be happy to give you some insight into how to set your case on the right track to a proper resolution.