Serving process abroad touches virtually every aspect of civil litigation.
It happens all the time. I’ll give a lecture or mention what I do at a bar association event, and the colleague I just met will express appreciation for what I do, tell me it’s a really neat niche, and then try to convince himself that our practice areas don’t overlap. I’m here to tell you that, yes, they do. The conversation usually goes something like this:
Sorry, Aaron. I handle divorces, not immigration. But thanks for doing that CLE. You’re a funny guy. (Funny how? I’m a clown? I amuse you?) No, I mean I really like how you got that picture of that Ned Stark guy into your slide deck!
Wait a sec, there, pal. First of all… immigration? You’re kidding, right? You did just sit through my lecture on international law, right? Those are not the same concepts. (He’s not kidding, sadly.)
Second of all (setting my incredulity aside), let’s say you do handle divorces exclusively, no visa applications ever. What if your client’s soon-to-be ex-wife is Chinese? What if she threw her hands up one day and in a fit of pique yelled at him “that’s it! I’m going home to Beijing!” before she ran home to Mom and Pop? Your case is only simple on its face. Maybe they don’t have kids. Maybe they don’t have property to fight over. Maybe the only issue before the court is whether to dissolve the marriage.
You still have to initiate the proceedings. And that’s not going to be as easy as just tossing the petition into a FedEx envelope and jetting it off to her parent’s house. Serving process in China requires a very particular procedure. If the defendant (or respondent— however the other spouse is referred to in the petition) is in the military, it can be even more complicated.
And woe be to the lawyer who doesn’t do it the right way. The nightmare scenario really is frightening (see more here). And it is easily avoided if the litigant and the attorney are patient and understand what requirements they must observe beyond just the rules of the venue court.
The point here is that serving process abroad touches virtually every aspect of civil litigation, and if the plaintiff doesn’t do it properly…