When you file for divorce in Texas, you are required to provide your spouse with proper notice of the divorce case. Without proper notice to the other spouse, a Texas divorce case cannot and should not move forward. The document that provides your spouse notice of the divorce case is called a citation. This article summarizes the rules that determine how to properly serve a spouse in a foreign country with a divorce citation from a Texas court. We will also briefly discuss alternatives to service where the spouse in the foreign country is cooperative.
The Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters (a.k.a. the Hague Service Convention) is a treaty between countries on how a judicial document from one country can be served on someone in another country. Under the Hague Service Convention, countries who are parties to the treaty must each designate their own central authority, and all judicial documents from one country that need to be served in another country must be sent to the destination country's central authority. The central authority will then handle service of the foreign judicial document. Once service has been attempted, the central authority will return the proof of service to the sender with either confirmation that service was successful or unsuccessful. The United States is a party to this treaty, and a Texas divorce citation is considered a judicial document under the terms of the treaty. Under the Hague Service Convention, you can also serve a Texas divorce citation through the destination country's mail system or using the destination country's own methods of serving its domestic judicial documents unless the destination country objects to these alternative methods of service. Some of the countries that are a party to the treaty and that have objected to any form of alternative service outside of their central authority include India, China and Mexico. Pakistan and Canada are parties to the treaty and allow the alternative methods of service authorized by the Hague Service Convention.
Texas courts have held that the Hague Service Convention applies to service of divorce citations when the spouse is in a country that is a party to the treaty. In Chukkapalli v. Mandava out of the Fifth District Court of Appeals of Texas, the Court voided a Texas divorce in which the husband, who lived in India, was served by an Indian process server instead of through India's central authority under the Hague Service Convention. The appeals court in the Chukkapalli case held that because the U.S. and India were both parties to the Hague Service Convention and because India objected to any method of service except for through its central authority, service on the husband through an Indian process server was not valid service and neither was service by publication. In Velasco v. Ayala out of the First District Court of Appeals of Texas, the Court voided a Texas divorce based on citation by publication where the wife was in Mexico, her address was known and service was attempted through mail and not Mexico's central authority. Mexico and the U.S. are parties to the Hague Service Convention and Mexico has objected to any form of service except for through its central authority. The lesson here is that if a spouse lives in a country that is a party to the Hague Service Convention and that spouse's address is known, the best practice is to attempt service pursuant to the terms of the Hague Service Convention first or risk having the divorce voided at a later date.
If the spouse lives in a country that is not a party to the Hague Service Convention, then Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 108a would exclusively deal with service of citation on that individual. Under Rule 108a, there are several methods to serve a spouse in another country, including: 1) service by registered or certified mail with return receipt requested, 2) service by an authorized Texas process server, 3) using any method of service allowed in the foreign country for that country's court documents, and 4) any other method allowed by a Texas Court that is not prohibited by the laws of the foreign country. Out of these options, the best method of service is using an individual in the foreign country who is authorized to serve that country's judicial documents. Some notable countries that are not a party to the Hague Service Convention are: Nigeria, Ethiopia, Singapore, Bangladesh and Lebanon.
If the overseas spouse is willing to cooperate with the Texas divorce, he or she can waive service of citation by executing a Waiver of Service. The Waiver of Service needs to be notarized, and often, the only U.S. notaries abroad are in consulates. Once the Waiver of Service is executed and returned to the filing spouse in Texas, the Waiver can be filed with the court.
If you need help serving a spouse in a foreign country with a Texas divorce citation, contact international divorce attorney Chikeersha Puvvada at 832-317-6705 or online today to schedule a free 30 minute consultation.