I say all the time that we ain’t building rockets here.  But we are building a JetSki of sorts, and a sputtering JetSki means you’re not going to finish your jungle tour in time to make it back for the foam party at Señor Frog’s.  Serving process in Mexico is subject to the strictures of the Hague Service Convention, regardless of which U.S. or Canadian venue is hearing the matter.

Some background is in order, if you’re so inclined, before we cut to the chase.

Now, for the chase scene.  And now that you’ve had your James Bond fix, here’s how service of process is done in Mexico:

Article 5 Service

  • Translate the documents. Mexico’s declaration to Article 5(3) requires it and, although the defendant may speak flawless English, omitting translated documents will prompt the Central Authority to reject your request.*
  • Fill out a USM-94. Be very careful about ensuring that it is complete and concise, and make sure that it is signed by a court official or an attorney.  If it is not, make sure that the person signing is commissioned by the court.  [Update– July, 2018: it seems that the Mexican Central Authority has begun rejecting Hague requests on two rather baseless points:  (1) because requests aren’t sent in triplicate, and (2) because the requests aren’t signed by the issuing court.  Both of these assertions are counter to Article 3 of the Convention… we’re working to get the problem resolved.]
  • Send to the Central Authority.
  • Sit tight. It may take a while—likely 9 months, perhaps a year, from submission to return of proof.  The judge is just going to have to accept that fact, because there is no appropriate alternative…

Article 10 alternative methods

  • Forget them, because Mexico objects to them all. Article 5 is it.  Acabado, abogado.

Seriously—that’s all there is to it in Mexico, but don’t get excited.  Sure, the method is straightforward and simple, but actually making it happen is anything but smooth.  The real problem with service in Mexico is that it takes an interminably long time, and in many cases, local authorities are decidedly less than motivated to act against large local entities, so service on the local factory boss may not happen at all.

Mexico’s declarations and Central Authority information—as well as those of all the other countries in the treaty—can be found here.

* The Mexican Central Authority hands service requests off to courts in the communities where defendants are located, and the judges execute requests according to local practice.  Until very recently, those judges enforced a rule that required all translations submitted to their courts be performed by court-certified perito translators.  Such translators are few and far between—a very tight guild monopoly—driving up the cost of translation despite the position of the Hague Conference that no such requirement was appropriate under the Service Convention.  Apparently, the Central Authority now communicates to judges that lack of a court-certified perito translation is not sufficient grounds for rejecting a request.  This does not mean, however, that the rejection would not be issued anyway, in which case the Central Authority would bounce the request to the judge again… back & forth until an understanding is reached.  All the while, the U.S. lawyer and his/her client sit and wait.

[Author’s Note:  My only visit to Mexico was on a spring break trip to Cancun in the late 1990s… and I was the chaperone.  By that time in my life, foam parties and booze cruises were not my thing, but I did get to climb the pyramid at Chichén Itzá and eat the best fish tacos anywhere in the solar system.  It took a fair amount of begging to get to see real Mexican life, because it cannot be found in the resort areas.]

  • Gina

    I’m Not a lawyer—but I’m trying to understand. What about it article 5 sub paragraph b where it says if the addressee is willing to receive it…? Does this mean it doesn’t have to be sent through the central authority OR translated?

    • Yes, it must still be sent to the Central Authority– Article 5 is the only means by which to effect service in Mexico, and that necessitates going to the Authority. And anything sent under Article 5 has to be translated, whether 5(a) or 5(b).

      Truly, it’s not about whether the defendant can speak English. It’s about whether the Central Authority staff– or the court officials handling the service act itself– can speak English. Many do not, so it’s a blanket requirement.

      • Gina

        Thank you for the reply! Is this truly for ANY court documents? My daughter’s biological father is in Mexico and we are trying to serve him to terminate parental rights so she can be adopted by her step-Dad. Bio dad is willing to sign. He still has to be served through The Hague procedures? I am getting conflicting info from two family law attorneys—one says yes and one says no need.

        • Hire the one who says yes, and then have him or her call me. Assuming you have an address for the guy, the attorney who says no is wrong.

  • Nancy M.

    Hello Aaron,
    If the Respondent (that now lives in Mexico), signs a mailed volunteer stipulation, does that have to go through the process of the Hague Convention?

    • Yes, it does. If it’s *served*, the use of mail is invalid because Mexico objects to Article 10(a) of the Convention. That’s an absolute. And the objection overrides any U.S. rule to the contrary.

      If he signs a *waiver* of service, that’s a different matter. That does not require Hague channels. But it does present a whole different battery of challenges, not the least of which is validation– if that waiver has to be notarized, then the notarization requires an Apostille in order to have legal validity in the U.S.

      The distinction (which only a lawyer could love) is this: acceptance of service says “okay, I acknowledge that I have been served in a valid manner.” A waiver says “don’t worry about serving me– I’m on notice and do not object to you not serving me.”

      But his acceptance conflicts with Hague doctrine, because he isn’t qualified to say “yes, it’s valid service.” Only Mexico’s Hague Central Authority has that power. Put another way, an acceptance is overridden by the Mexican declaration– even voluntary acceptance of service still has to go through the Central Authority.

      • Nancy M.

        Thank you!

  • Now that’s a different kettle of fish– if the respondent voluntarily stipulates, then no. It doesn’t require Hague Service Convention channels because you’re not actually *serving* anything. The challenge then, however, is notarization of the stipulation, and that would require application of a different Hague Convention: the Apostille Convention. If the respondent is indigent or isn’t very sophisticated, that’s even more unlikely to succeed that regular Hague service.

  • Alissa Owens Ramos

    What if you don’t know where the person you are trying to serve lives, and the person you are trying to serve is an United States citizen?

    • You’ll have to discuss other options with your attorney– without an address, there’s no way to serve someone in Mexico. Fortunately, that also means you aren’t running afoul of the Hague Service Convention (it doesn’t apply if the defendant’s address is unknown), but it would be fruitless to even try.

  • Dave Shellnutt

    Good afternoon and thanks for this great post! I am trying to serve documents on a company in Mexico. For translation, do I need to have it done by a government approved service? There is talk of the form to accompany the documents being served, what form is that?