This blog explains what you should do as the respondent and how you should complete the acknowledgment of service form that comes with the divorce petition from the court. We frequently blog and discuss topics on divorce from the petitioner’s point of view and not the respondent i.e. the person receiving the divorce papers.
When a respondent is sent the sealed divorce petition from the court, it will also enclose an acknowledgment of service form which he must complete. The form will attach a guidance note from the court which explains how the form should be completed. Even if the respondent does not agree with the divorce, or if he wishes to defend it, he should complete the acknowledgment of service form and return it to the court.
The acknowledgment of service form asks a series of questions which the respondent must answer. Most of the questions are relatively straightforward. Here, we will deal with the more complicated questions in the form:
- Are there any court proceedings in any countries outside England and Wales relating to the marriage that are capable of affecting its validity or subsistence? If so please provide details – this question could be quite complicated. In most cases, the answer will be “no”. However, if there are proceedings in another country which might affect the validity of the marriage, for an example, if there are proceedings relating to the mental capacity of one of the parties, then the respondent should explain this in the acknowledgment of service form. The respondent should go into detail to include the country in which the proceedings are ongoing, the name of the court, the date the proceedings started, the case number and dates of any future hearings etc.
- In which country are you habitually residence, domiciled and of which country are you a national? In a majority of cases, the answer to all three parts of this question will be the same e.g. “England”. However, the meaning of habitual residence is not straightforward. It is possible, as a legal concept, to be habitually resident in one country but resident (but not habitually) in another. This could be where a family lives in more than one property or where one spouse works abroad frequently. Similarly, with domicile, this is not a straightforward concept. Generally, a person is domiciled in a country if he considers his permanent home there.
- Do you agree with the grounds for jurisdiction set out in the petition? If not, please state why you disagree – This again in a majority of cases will be “yes”. This relates to the jurisdiction part of the petitioner’s divorce petition (part 3). If the respondent does not agree that both parties are, for an example, habitually residence in England and Wales and the respondent wants the divorce heard in another court overseas, then it is important that the respondent obtains legal advice regarding the country where he wants the divorce proceedings to be heard.
- Do you intend to defend the case? Only in exceptional circumstances should this answer be “yes”. If a respondent states that he intends to defend the divorce, then he must file and serve a ‘defence’ otherwise known as an ‘Answer’ within 21 days beginning the day after the date the acknowledgment of service is required to be filed. Defending divorce proceedings and filing an Answer is complex and one which the respondent should consider once he had obtained legal advice. Simply answer “yes” but failing to file and answer could result in the divorce continuing on an undefended basis.
- Even if you do not intend to defend the case do you object to paying the cost of the proceedings? If so on what grounds? In most divorce cases, the petitioner will be successful in seeking his or her costs back from the respondent. If the respondent disagrees with the petitioner’s claim for costs, he or his solicitor should contact the petitioner to try and negotiate what should happen to those costs. If the parties cannot agree and this section is answered “yes” then the court is likely to list the case for a costs hearing.
The respondent must file his acknowledgment of service 7 working days after he has received the petition, unless he lives abroad, in which case the time limit is extended.
Often, a solicitor can sign an acknowledgment of service form on behalf of the respondent once the respondent has approved the content. However, depending on the answers to some of the questions, the respondent must sign it personally.
The video below published by the Law Society sets out what you should expect in divorce proceedings and how a solicitor may be able to help you through the process.
If you are thinking of getting a divorce or if you are a respondent in existing divorce proceedings and you would like further advice, our solicitors at Hunter & Uro can help. Serving Bedford, Northampton and Milton Keynes, our lawyers can help you with your family law and divorce matters. Contact us on 01234 889777 for a free initial consultation.