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How to Serve Divorce Papers

Contents

    If you filed for divorce you must have copies of your court papers served on (given to) your spouse. If you and your spouse are able to safely talk and cooperate, your spouse can also agree to accept service of the documents.

    Be careful! There are special rules and strict deadlines for service. If you do not follow them carefully, you may have to pay a court fine or even start your case again.

    What papers do I have served?

    The first papers you will have served on your spouse are:

    • The Summons and Complaint (usually just called the “summons”)

    • Any other papers you filed at court to begin your divorce

    Warning! The summons must be personally served on your spouse within 91 days, or your divorce case may be dismissed.

    Can I be the server?

    No. There are several ways you can have the initial divorce papers served, but you cannot be the one to serve the papers. You can ask a friend or relative to serve the papers or you can pay your local sheriff’s department, police department or a “process server.” Whoever serves the papers must:

    • Be 18 or over

    • Not be involved in your case

    What does the server do?

    The server must:

    • Personally give your spouse a copy of your court papers

    • Fill out and sign the Proof of Service on the back of one copy of the Summons form and give it to you

    Can the server mail the papers?

    Yes. The server can mail the papers by registered or certified mail, with service restricted to your spouse and a return receipt requested.

    This type of service only works if your spouse accepts delivery of the registered mail, and if you have a safe address where the return receipt can be mailed.

    To serve the papers by mail:

    • Have a friend or relative go to the post office and pay to have the papers mailed to your spouse this way.

    • Once the papers have been delivered, you will get a green card (the return receipt) in the mail. Make sure your spouse signed the green card.

    • Have the person who mailed the papers fill out and sign the Proof of Service form on the back of one copy of the Summons and give it to you. Attach the signed return receipt to the Proof of Service.

    Can my spouse just agree to accept service of the papers?

    Yes. If your spouse agrees to accept service of the papers, you or another person can give copies of the papers to your spouse. This is the only method of service where you can be the one to hand the papers to your spouse. Have your spouse sign the Acknowledgment of Service section on the back of one copy of the Summons and give it to you. With this type of service, only the Acknowledgement of Service portion of the Proof of Service needs to be filled out. Make a copy of this form for your records, and file the original with the county clerk.

    What if I don’t know where my spouse is?

    If the server has tried to serve your spouse several times, without success, you can ask the court for permission to serve your spouse by regular first-class mail or another way. To do this file a Motion and Verification for Alternate Service.

    If the judge allows alternate service, the court will sign an Order for Alternate Service. Then you can follow the judge’s directions for serving the papers by the alternate way.

    If you need to serve your spouse by alternative service, you may need to hire a lawyer to help you with your divorce. Proper service is absolutely necessary for you to get a divorce. See the “Find a Lawyer” section of this website.

    How do I serve the rest of the papers that I file?

    Only the Summons and initial divorce papers must be personally served on your spouse by someone other than you. After the initial service, you are permitted to serve court papers on your spouse, and they do not have to be delivered in person. You may serve the rest of the divorce papers by:

    • Mailing a copy to your spouse’s last-known address

    • Handing a copy to your spouse in person, or

    • Leaving a copy at your spouse’s home with an adult who also lives there.

    Whoever serves the papers must fill out and sign a copy a Proof of Service saying which papers were served. If you used our online interview to draft your divorce papers, several blank Proof of Service forms are included.

    What do I do with the completed Proof of Service

    Each time a server fills out a Proof of Service file it with the county clerk.