CONFLICT BETWEEN CONFIDENTIAL ADDRESS AND NEED TO SERVE LEGAL DOCUMENTS

There clearly is a need for some victims of domestic violence to keep their current whereabouts confidential. Some abusers do not have any respect or concern about Court Orders when their emotional or financial interests are concerned. Confidentiality is an essential component in many victims plans for safety and security. However, there are practical consequences which have an impact on the right of the opposing party to have safe and appropriate contact with the children of the parties or the need to be able to deliver legal papers to the victim in order to disentangle the parties from such things as titles to vehicles, divorce proceedings, and custody arrangements for the children. Although a history of violence is a necessary factor to consider in the contact between an abuser and children, not all abusers should be supervised or denied contact with his/her children.

The difficulty comes in trying to protect the victims without making it impossible for the other parent to present a custody request to the Court, or to proceed in filing and finalizing a divorce, if the parties were married. When the address is withheld, there currently is no mechanism in place to assure the victim can receive the legal pleadings and still protect her/his whereabouts. To some extent it may actually be of benefit to the victim to either end the legal relationship created by the marriage, or the victim may believe that it is in the best interests of the children that they see their other parent on a regular basis. However, with no idea of where the party is and no ability to provide them with the documents necessary to resolve outstanding issues between them, the interests of the children and of the Court in seeing that economic justice is done in the division of their property, as required in the Divorce Code, cannot be accomplished.

I have advocated for some time that there needs to be some way to be able to serve the party with the confidential address, as that term is used in the legal sense*, with the legal documents without compromising their safety and security. I have suggested that the Court establish an office, or give the responsibility to an existing office, to be the authorized recipient of such pleadings on behalf of the person whose address is confidential. It would be the responsibility of that person to keep the office aware of any changes to their actual address, and the pleadings would then be forwarded to the individual by the Court official. In this electronic age, it could be at an email address, however, certainly not everyone can afford or desires to be on-line. The Court would have to enter an Order that establishes the recipient as the authorized agent for the purposes of accepting service from the spouse/parent on behalf of the individual.

Of course, there will be situations where, through no fault of their own, documents do not make it to the intended recipient. No system is fool proof. I believe that the authority should only be for a specific period of time, forcing any legal proceedings to be activated in a timely manner. Additionally, the Court would not want to be the agent for service for extended periods of time. However, with some thought and careful procedures and safeguards in place, it would permit the resolution of these matters to proceed to conclusion, allowing each side to present their positions and arguments in a forum where the safety of all concerned is respected and protected.