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Making a Murderer: The Family Law Spin Part 2

So, we found the proper venue for our divorce complaint, helping a woman divorce her husband who is in prison. This probably resembles the process that Steve Avery's first wife went through after Avery's wrongful conviction for rape in 1985. Crushed under the weight of raising four young children on her own, and attempting to maintain a relationship with an inmate who was often shuffled from facility to facility, became more than their marriage could bear.

After filing our divorce complaint, we need to work on serving the inmate. But how? Do we have to make a field trip to the prison to have him personally served? What if he's in a prison that is hours away? Depending on the situation, we would first try reason, and mail him the divorce complaint with an acknowledgment of service form. In the documentary, we're told by Steve Avery that he agreed to the divorce from his first wife, so he likely signed an acknowledgment of service.

In a perfect world, the husband in our scenario would acknowledge service of the complaint by signing the acknowledgment form before a notary, and mail the acknowledgment back to us. But let's say the inmate is not so thrilled about the divorce prospect, and refuses. Let's say he's unreasonable. Who saw that coming?

We would then contact the sheriff's department in the county where the inmate's prison is located to have him formally served. This involves a service fee, more paperwork, and a potentially long wait while the sheriff's department processes the paperwork for service. We would need certain information for this that we wouldn't normally need for regular non-prison service, such as the name and address of the prison and the inmate's name and EF#. If you don't know it, then my office would take care of getting that information for you.

The sheriff's department would "serve" the inmate by delivering the documents to the prison where a designated person will accept service on behalf of the inmate. This is "SOP" - standard operating procedure. From there, the paperwork would make its way to the inmate counselor, who would give the documents to the inmate. It's important to note that because we're dealing with an inmate, communication can be quite limited. Mail is often slow to get to inmates and slow to get out of prisons.

Another consideration is property: who is currently in possession of the inmate's property? Who will take it if you, the inmate soon-to-be ex wife, don't want it? You'd likely want to talk to your attorney about setting up a power of attorney who can take possession and control of the inmate's property. Most inmates already have one in place. As well, if there are children of this marriage, you'll want to consider seeking termination of parental rights, which may depend primarily on how long the inmate is in prison, and whether there's a possibility that you may remarry and want your kids to be adopted by your new partner. (There are many downsides to going to prison and this is often an unexpected one.)

Divorce or completing any domestic action is stressful and can be time-consuming - and this is even more true for an action against an inmate. That's why it's imperative to have an attorney on your side to ensure the correct paperwork is done, and no loose ends are left. 

Megan Santiago 

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