How to Serve a Divorce Summons in California
By Victoria McGrath
Updated March 29, 2020
In California, after you file a Petition (form FL-100) for divorce, you provide your spouse a copy of the Petition and a Summons to appear in court. The Summons (form FL-110) notifies your spouse that you have filed for divorce, and provides 30 calendar days for your spouse to respond. The process of service requires a third-party – not a party to the divorce – to deliver the Summons and Petition to your spouse. California Courts require you to file a Proof of Service of Summons (form FL-115) with the court clerk's office, in order for the divorce to proceed.
Prepare a copy of all divorce documents filed with the court to serve with the summons. Include Petition (form FL-100), Summons (form FL-110) and a blank Response (form FL-120). If the dissolution of marriage involves children under 18 years of age, also attach a Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (form FL-105). Provide a copy of any Child Custody and Visitation Application Attachment (form FL-311) filed with the court.
Choose a person to deliver the Summons to your spouse, with a copy of the Petition. In California, a person 18 or over qualifies to serve the summons. Ask a friend or relative to serve your spouse the court documents. Or alternatively, hire a county sheriff or professional process server. Do not ask adult children of the marriage to serve the other spouse. Also keep in mind that you cannot, under any circumstance, serve the papers yourself.
Select a method by which to serve the Summons and Petition. The process to serve the court papers on the other party is called "service of process." California courts accept personal service and service by mail with a Notice of Acknowledgment and Receipt (Form FL-117). Personal service means that your "server" hand-delivers the Summons and Petition to the individual. Service by mail means that your "server" mails the documents to your spouse.
Provide specific information to your friend, relative, sheriff or process server to help the "server" locate your spouse. Start with a current mailing address for service by mail. Also provide any last known home address, business address and work schedule for personal service. Include a recent photograph and physical description for the sheriff or process server.
Consider service by mail if your spouse agrees to the divorce and wants to expedite the process. You ask your "server" to mail the court papers to your spouse's home address via certified mail. Your spouse completes a Response (form FL-120) and Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt (form FL-117), and files them with the court. If your spouse refuses to accept service by mail, the documents need to be served in person.
Ask the person who serves the Summons, by mail or in person, to sign the Proof of Service of Summons (form FL-115.) Both professional and non-professional servers complete this form, to be filed with the court. Obtain the original Proof of Service of Summons from the person who delivered the Summons to your spouse, and verify the form is completely filled out and properly signed.
Make a copy of the Proof of Service of Summons for yourself and submit the original form FL-115 to the court. File the original in-person with the family law clerk at the court clerk's office. Ask for a time-stamped copy as proof of filing.
Items you will need
Form FL-100, Petition
Form FL 105, Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)
Form FL-110, Summons (Family Law)
Form FL-115, Proof of Service of Summons
Form FL-117, Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt
Form FL-120, Response and Request
Form FL-311, Child Custody and Visitation Application Attachment
As a last resort, consider service by publication. Service by publications allows you to notify your spouse of the pending divorce through his local newspaper. Courts approve service by publication in extreme cases, such as a missing or estranged spouse.
Your court case cannot proceed until you file a Proof of Service of Summons with the court. The court will not order a divorce without proper notification to your spouse.
- Serve Now: California Rules of Civil Procedure
- California Courts: Filing Your Case
- California Courts: Serve Your First Set of Court Forms
- Superior Court, County of Santa Clara: How to Start a Case for Divorce, Legal Separation or Nullity
- California Courts: Summons (Family Law): Form FL-110
- California Courts: Proof of Service of Summons: Form FL-115
- California Courts: Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt: Form FL-117
- California Courts: Response and Request For: Form FL-120
Based in Los Angeles, Victoria McGrath has been writing law-related articles since 2004. She specializes in intellectual property, copyright and trademark law. She earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Arizona, College of Law. McGrath pursued both her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Fine Arts at University of California, Los Angeles, in film and television production. Her work has been published in the Daily Bruin and La Gente Newsmagazine.