Clients are frequently concerned about how their spouse will be officially notified of their filing for a divorce. There are various scenarios. Under Missouri law, a case is considered to have commenced when the required paperwork (including the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, sometimes called the Petition or Petition for Dissolution) is filed with the court and a “summons” is issued. A summons is a special form that accompanies the Petition for Dissolution and is intended to be “served” on the other spouse by a sheriff or privately hired “special process server.” Service of the summons and the Petition is required in order to “start the clock,” for the court’s time standards, but this does not always occur. One common reason for this is because frequently the other spouse has already been told about the upcoming filing and his or her attorney has already made contact with us and it is agreed that upon delivery of the Petition and certain other required paperwork, the other spouse’s attorney will file an “entry of appearance,” which has the same effect of formal service.
Why do some clients want to avoid formal service of process? Some fear it will appear too aggressive or will be considered shocking and surprising and want to be able to tell their spouse in advance. Others do not want to potentially embarrass their spouse at work or have them served in the presence of their children.
In recent years, however, due to advances in electronic notification systems and online case filing information, as well as the publication of filing information in legal newspapers, some attorneys will actually send a letter to your spouse within days of the filing and “solicit” their business, likely before your spouse even knows that something has been filed. While we do not engage in this practice, it is important that you be aware of the likelihood that your spouse may learn about the case being filed even before they are served with the summons and Petition for Dissolution and possibly even before you have discussed this with your spouse.
It is important that you discuss with your attorney the nature of any “divorce” discussions that you have had with your spouse and how you want your spouse learn about your decision to divorce and about being notified of the filing of your case.