How to Serve Divorce Papers
By A.K. Jayne
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In a divorce filing, papers filed with the court must be properly served on the other spouse. Examples of these papers include the Summons and Complaint and Notice of Appearance -- the typical documents filed in the beginning of a divorce action. While some specific rules for service may differ from state to state, you will typically have to select from one of several acceptable ways to serve divorce papers on your spouse.
Serving Divorce Papers by Acceptance of Service
Hand-deliver the divorce papers to your spouse.
Ask your spouse to sign the Acceptance of Service. This document serves as confirmation that the divorce papers were served, but does not mean that your spouse agrees to the terms you are seeking in your Complaint.
Return the Acceptance of Service to the court. It will then be filed with your divorce papers.
Serving Divorce Papers via Mail
Send the divorce papers to your spouse by first-class mail with an Acknowledgment form. The Acknowledgment, once signed, serves the same purpose as the Acceptance of Service. Include a return envelope with sufficient postage for your spouse to return the Acknowledgment.
Submit the Acknowledgment to the court. It is filed just as the Acceptance of Service would be if you served your spouse in person.
Mail the divorce papers again via certified mail if your spouse does not return an Acknowledgment. Send the papers return receipt requested. You are also required to file an affidavit that explains that you have tried other methods and been unsuccessful.
Service Via a Third Party
Hire a sheriff or process server to serve the divorce papers on your spouse. You can use the sheriff or a server in your county if your spouse lives there. If he lives in a different county, you will need to have a sheriff or server in that county serve the papers.
Submit a set of the divorce papers to the sheriff or process server. Include an Affidavit of Service along with a return envelope and sufficient postage so that the sheriff or process server can mail the affidavit back to you for filing with the court.
Pay the necessary service fees. The sheriff or process server will notify you as to the fees for service.
Serving Divorce Papers With a Publication Notice
Ask the court to order service via publication. This is done in instances when all other methods of service have failed.
Contact the newspaper where your spouse lives to place an ad. The publication notice must run in the paper for at least three consecutive weeks.
Provide the court with a copy of the notice. In addition, include a statement from the newspaper verifying the date that the ad was placed.
If you and your spouse have minor children, you may not be permitted to notify your spouse via a publication notice in a newspaper.
A.K. Jayne has written and edited print and online content since 2006. In addition, she has legal assistant/paralegal experience in areas including wills and trusts and family law. Her articles have appeared in the "Philadelphia Inquirer," "New Jersey Record" and "Burlington County Times." Jayne completed an Associated Press internship and is an alumna of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications.