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Both spouses need to cooperate with each other to some degree for purposes of getting a divorce. If one party refuses to engage with the process, it may be necessary to call on the services of a court bailiff.

Why would I need a court bailiff in divorce?

One of the first steps in getting a divorce is for one divorcing party (known as the petitioner) to complete a matrimonial order (previously called a divorce petition) which essentially comprises the divorce application to court.

Once the application has been submitted and approved, the court will send a copy to the other spouse (known as the respondent) along with an ‘acknowledgement of service’ form.

They must respond to this form within 8 days – either agreeing with the divorce or contesting it. Once this has been done, the divorce moves to the next stage and the petitioner can apply for decree nisi.

If the respondent refuses to reply to the acknowledgement of service form and remains uncooperative, it may be necessary to ask a court bailiff to intervene, in order to ensure the divorce can move on to the next stage.

A petitioner who has suffered domestic abuse or is concerned about the safety of themselves or their children should also use a court bailiff.

What can a bailiff do during divorce proceedings for the petitioner?

It is possible for the petitioner to arrange for a court bailiff to deliver the divorce papers to the respondent personally (solicitors will often use a process server instead of a court bailiff to carry out the same function). This procedure is known as ‘personal service’ and will normally incur a fee.

Once personal service has taken place successfully, the respondent cannot deny having received the matrimonial order.

If the respondent does not indicate that they intend to defend the divorce within 29 days of being served, the petitioner can then apply for the decree nisi and the divorce moves to the next stage.

What is the process of instructing a court bailiff?

In order to request a court bailiff, it is necessary to fill in Form D89: Request for personal service by a court bailiff. The fields which need to be completed include:

  • Names of petitioner and respondent
  • Contact details and description of the respondent (a photograph should be included if available)
  • Details of any vehicle owned by the respondent
  • Various information about any potential danger posed by the respondent (eg if they hold a firearms licence and if they have any dangerous animals at their property etc)
  • The court bailiff will use the above information to locate the respondent and physically serve the divorce papers. It can be faster to use a process server than a court bailiff – but timings vary for both.

Once the respondent has been served, the bailiff (or process server) then files a certificate of service with the court confirming that service on the respondent has taken place.

The cost of asking a court bailiff to serve the divorce papers is currently £110 – but check the latest fees as these change from time to time.

A petitioner who has suffered domestic abuse or is concerned about the safety of themselves or their children will generally not have to pay any fee for bailiff service.

Are court bailiffs always successful? If not what happens next?

Court bailiffs are not always successful in their endeavours. If the respondent has moved to an unknown address or left the country, it may be impossible to physically serve notice on them.

If personal service fails, an alternative method of proving that (the original) divorce papers were received by the respondent is to provide evidence to that effect. This is known as ‘deemed service’.

Evidence may consist of an email or text message, or virtually anything which confirms that the spouse received the papers.

If deemed service also fails, the court may decide to dispense with the requirement of service altogether. But this is very rare, and it is necessary to demonstrate to the court that all reasonable efforts were made to contact the respondent.

This post was written by Mark Keenan. Editor of the Divorce Online Blog and Managing Director of Online Legal Service Ltd. Mark has been writing about divorce and related subjects for over 20+ years and is an expert in legal marketing.

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