Do I Have to Personally Serve Every Document in a Divorce?

Getting divorced without an attorney is sort of like changing your oil for the first time. You can probably figure it out eventually but it will take a lot longer, be a lot messier, and could result in very expensive mistakes. I have had a lot of pro se parties ask me whether or not they have to personally serve every document in a divorce. Fortunately, the answer is no.

Rule 5(b)(1)(A) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure states that “if a hearing is scheduled 5 days or less from the date of service, the party shall use the method most likely to give prompt actual notice of the hearing. Otherwise, a party shall serve a paper under this rule . . . by mailing to the person’s last known address.”

In Davis v. Goldsworthy, 184 P.3d 626 (Utah App. 2008), Goldsworthy’s attorney withdrew based on failure to pay, communicate, and Goldsworthy’s “relocation to an unknown address.” Davis’ counsel mailed a notice to appear or appoint counsel to the last known address which was no longer Goldsworthy’s current address. Id at 628. The trial court struck Goldsworthy’s pleadings and entered his default. Id. Goldsworthy filed a motion to set aside asserting that he did not receive the notice. Id. At the hearing, the following exchange took place between the judge and Davis’ counsel:

Judge: How did you obtain service [of the notice to appear or appoint]?

Counsel: I simply mailed it.

Judge: And it is your position that that’s adequate under the rules?

Counsel: I believe it is, your honor . . .

Judge: Well, I’m troubled by that. . . [S]imply mailing that to an address without return receipt requested, without other proof of service which would be required for a summons or complaint, or effecting personal service of the notice which was required under the old rule, I’m puzzled as to how that, that gives the court jurisdiction to move forward. Id at 628-629.

Due to lack of notice, the court set aside the default. Id at 629. On appeal, Davis’ counsel contended that the court erred in finding that service by mailing was inadequate. Id. The Utah Court of Appeals stated that “Rule 5 explains how service of papers other than a summons and complaint is to be made: ‘Service … upon a party shall be made by delivering a copy or by mailing a copy to the last known address or, if no address is known, by leaving it with the clerk of the court.” Id at 629-630.

The Utah Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision stating that Davis’ counsel properly served his notice to appear or appoint by mailing to Goldsworthy’s last known address. Id at 630.

Once the Petitioner has personally served the petition, all subsequent pleadings with a few exceptions need only be mailed to the other party’s or his or her attorney’s last known address.

If you are representing yourself, you may consider hiring an attorney in South Jordan to help you get things done more efficiently. Don’t hesitate to call for a free consult.

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