How Are Divorce Suits Served in Ohio?
By Beverly Bird
Ohio is a relatively friendly state if you want to file for divorce on your own, without the assistance of an attorney. The court clerk takes responsibility for serving your divorce complaint on your spouse -- up to an extent. The court will try to serve her, but if all efforts fail, you’ll have to take additional steps to achieve an alternate means of service. Your case can’t proceed unless your spouse is officially aware that you seek a divorce, giving her an opportunity to contest the action.
Service by Mail
When you file a complaint for divorce in Ohio, the clerk will ask you how you want your spouse served. The mail option is the least expensive, but it may be more time-consuming. Complete an “Instructions for Service” form at the time you file your complaint, giving the court your spouse’s address. They’ll send her a copy of your complaint by certified mail. If she doesn’t sign for the mail, the court will notify you by letter. You now have a few options. If you can find an alternate address for your spouse, you can go back to the court, fill out a new instruction form and the clerk will send your complaint to that address, also by certified mail. If you’re sure your spouse is living at the first address you gave, you can request that the clerk send your complaint by regular mail. As long as the post office doesn’t return the mail to the court marked “undeliverable,” you’ve achieved service.
If you want to avoid the potential delays of service by mail, you can request the clerk serve your complaint by personal service instead. You must be familiar with your spouse’s usual daily routine. When you complete the instruction form, tell the court when and where a sheriff’s officer or a court employee can most likely find him, such as his place of employment. The officer or employee will hand-deliver your complaint to your spouse.
Service by Posting or Publication
If you’ve totally lost track of your spouse and have no idea where she's living or working, and if all mail to alternate addresses is returned as "undeliverable" to the court, Ohio allows you to serve her by posting or publication. To do this, you must return to the courthouse and complete an "Affidavit for Service by Posting" form, detailing the efforts you took to find your spouse. The court will post notice of your complaint at the courthouse and various other locations. The notice remains up for six weeks, after which time Ohio law considers your spouse officially served. If you paid your court filing fees to initiate your divorce, the process is the same, but the court will run notice of your divorce in the local newspaper for six weeks instead.
Waiver of Service
If you and your spouse are on good terms and she is not contesting the divorce, she can waive service entirely. If you request a “Waiver of Service” form from the court and she signs it, service is not necessary under Ohio law. However, you must return the waiver to the court for filing so the court is aware your divorce can proceed.
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.