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Deemed Service: What to Do if Your Spouse Does Not Engage in Divorce Proceedings


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When a spouse fails to respond to a divorce petition, it can significantly delay proceedings. However, this obstacle doesn’t have to be insurmountable. In this article, we explore Deemed Service Applications in divorce proceedings, discussing what they are, why they’re important, and how they offer a remedy to applicants facing this issue.

No-Fault Divorce 

The introduction of the no-fault divorce process on April 5, 2022, has brought about a comprehensive transformation in the divorce landscape.  

Key changes to divorce include: 

  • Replacing the five fault-based grounds with a single ground: the ‘Irretrievable breakdown of marriage,’ allowing couples to divorce without assigning blame. 
  • Transitioning from lengthy paper forms to online divorce applications. 
  • Introducing joint applications to foster a more cooperative process. 
  • Ceasing the ability to contest proceedings to minimise conflict. 
  • The parties involved are now referred to as the Applicant (the one who petitions) and the Respondent (the one expected to respond to the petition). 

Since the option to contest a divorce has been removed, there has been an increase in Respondents refusing to file the Acknowledgement of Service, which is mandatory for the Court to progress the proceedings. 

What is a Deemed Service Application? 

A deemed service application is a request to the Court to proceed with the divorce without the Respondent’s acknowledgement of service. 

What is the Significance of Deemed Service Application? 

Deemed service application becomes significant when the Respondent refuses to engage in divorce proceedings. By showing that the Respondent has been appropriately served with the required documents, the Applicant and Court can proceed with assurance that the other party has been duly informed and provided an opportunity to engage in the legal process. This ensures fairness and transparency. 

When is Deemed Service Applicable in Divorce Cases? 

In most cases, divorce paperwork is served on the Respondent by the Court, primarily for cost efficiency. If court service fails to elicit a response, applicants can instruct their solicitor to serve the documents directly or send them by post.  

Nonetheless, in instances where these methods prove ineffective, efforts are undertaken to deliver the documents to the Respondent through alternative means. One of the most used methods is by way of instructing a Process Server to personally hand over the documents to the Respondent at their home, work or any other address they are known at. If the service is successful, a statement from the process server confirming that the Respondent was personally served with the papers would be deemed adequate for the divorce proceedings to progress. 

What Happens if the Process Server Fails to Deliver Documents on the Respondent? 

If all attempts, including those of the process server, fail, the final recourse is an application for deemed service to the Court. This application serves to demonstrate that all reasonable methods have been exhausted in attempting to serve the documents to the Respondent. 

Deemed Service: Frequently Asked Questions 

Once the Court has issued the divorce proceedings, the acknowledgement of service must be filed by the Respondent within 14 days. While it is feasible to request deemed service on the 15th day, it is advisable to wait for a reasonable duration before making such an application.
The decision turnaround time for deemed service applications typically ranges from 4 to 6 weeks.
The very first step is to try and do background checks via friends and family. If all the attempts fail, the final resort would be to appoint a tracer to obtain a location/ tracing report. In most instances, the tracer successfully obtains the contact details of the Respondent. However, in exceptional cases where this method fails, you can make an application for Deemed service where you can demonstrate to the Judge that you have made diligent efforts to locate your spouse by way of a negative tracing report.
Placing documents through a letterbox or leaving them at the doorstep does not qualify as personal service. Hence, a deemed service application must be filed with the Court, accompanied by a witness statement from the process server affirming the delivery of documents at the doorstep. Subsequently, the Court reviews the documentation, ultimately making a decision on the deemed service application as per their discretion.

Next Steps 

It is natural to feel overwhelmed by the concept of divorce and deemed service. If you’re feeling stuck or in need of guidance, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our Family Department. You can contact the team at 02081328134 or via email at Alternatively, you can get in touch with Adam Bowes, Partner and Head of Family Department, at 020 7613 7130 or via email at . We’re here to help you navigate through this challenging time. 


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Ardra Pillai

Trainee Solicitor

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