Is it Normal for the Sheriff to Come to the Home to Present the Divorce Papers?
By Beverly Bird
A divorce can't move forward until the spouse who filed arranges to have the other spouse officially served with the divorce papers. In most states, there are several acceptable ways of doing this. One common method is to have the papers delivered by sheriff's officer -- at least in contested divorces where spouses can't agree on anything or if one of them doesn't want the divorce in the first place.
When your spouse files for divorce, if she's serving you by sheriff, she must tell the sheriff or other court officials where they can most likely locate you and during what hours. If she doesn't want to cause you problems or embarrassment at work, she'll probably choose your home. She might tell the court you're usually there on certain evenings and the sheriff will go to your residence at those times to try to find you and give you the papers. If you're still living together, she might give time frames when she knows she's not likely to be home as well. It's your spouse's choice where she wants to have you served.
If the sheriff attempts to serve you with your spouse's divorce papers and fails to locate you, he may ask your spouse for other locations where he might be able to find you. The sheriff generally won't go to your home once, receive no response when he knocks at your door then just give up. He'll keep coming back or serve you somewhere else. Some states allow the sheriff to hand-deliver the papers to any adult -- or even an older teenager -- who answers your door, while other states allow the sheriff to go to the homes of other individuals if you're likely to turn up there -- such as your parents' home for dinner or a friend's home while you're there socializing.
If you're inclined to avoid service because you don't want the divorce, it's not likely to do much good. The law won't force your spouse to remain married to you just because she can't serve you. At best, it may prevent the court from deciding financial issues, such as property division or support, but a judge will still terminate your marriage. If your spouse wants to increase her chances of having you successfully served, most states allow her to hire a private process server instead of using your local sheriff's department. Sheriff's officers usually only work non-holiday weekdays and early evenings. A private process server will work diligently around the clock to pin down your whereabouts and will probably be successful. If even the process server fails to locate you, your spouse can usually have you served by placing a notice in the newspaper.
Accepting or Waiving Service
You can usually eliminate the issue of service altogether if you simply accept a copy of your spouse's divorce papers without fuss. In most states, it's not mandatory that the sheriff serves you -- it's only mandatory you officially receive the papers. Your spouse can usually hand-deliver them to you or even mail you a copy if you sign an acceptance or waiver of service, which she can then file with the court.
- ADI Florida Process: How to Serve Divorce Papers in Florida?
- Legal Aid of West Virginia: FAQs 4 -- Divorce -- "Service" of Papers
- Robin Roshkind: Amicable Divorce and Avoiding the Embarrassment of Service of Process
- West Tennessee Legal Services: What You Need to Know About Divorce (PDF)
- Northwest Justice Project: Service by Certified Mail or Publication (PDF)
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.