How to Serve Divorce Papers in Texas
By Beverly Bird
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Often, the easiest part of getting a divorce is filing your petition with the court. Your next step after the court filing is to inform your spouse that you’ve filed the initial papers in the proceedings. This is known as “effectuating service,” and involves ensuring that your spouse has a copy of your divorce petition. Texas law allows you to accomplish this in a variety of ways.
Ask your local district clerk for a citation form when you file your divorce petition. This is a one-page document that must be attached to the front of your petition. It gives your spouse instructions as to what he should do next and how much time he has to act. Texas has two separate citation forms, one for use if your spouse lives in the county where you filed your petition and another for use if he lives elsewhere. Tell the clerk where he lives so you’re sure to get the correct form.
Read More: How to File for Divorce by Myself in Texas
Request a copy of the Information for Service of Process form from the clerk. Complete the form, giving identifying information about your spouse, including his address, his physical appearance and when he is most likely to be at home.
Take your petition, the citation and the Information for Service of Process form to the sheriff in the county where your spouse resides. The sheriff will locate your spouse and hand deliver your documents to him. Once this is accomplished, you will receive a form stating that service of process has been accomplished, which you then file with the court.
File a special motion with the court if the sheriff is unable to locate your spouse for service. This might occur if your spouse is trying to avoid receiving your petition. You have other options to effect service of process on him, but you can't use them without obtaining special permission from the court. The court clerk can give you a copy of the paperwork you’ll need to file the motion. Ask the judge to allow you to serve your spouse either by certified mail or by placing a notice in the newspaper.
Follow the directions included in the court order to publish your divorce notice or to mail a copy of your petition to your spouse. If the judge approves your motion, he will issue this order telling you exactly how you're permitted to accomplish either process.
If your divorce is amicable, you can avoid service altogether. Ask the court clerk for a “waiver of citation” form when you file your petition. Texas law allows your spouse to sign this form and have it notarized, waiving his right to be officially served with your petition. When you file the waiver with the court, your divorce can proceed uncontested.
As a public employee, the sheriff may be limited as to the amount of time he can dedicate to locating your spouse. If you want to avoid having to file a motion with the court for service by mail or publication, Texas law also allows you to hire a private process server to do the job. A private process server generally has more time to spend tracking down your spouse and making sure he gets your petition.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.