How to Serve the Custody/Paternity Papers

After you open a custody or paternity case, the next step is to make sure the other parent is “served” with the papers. It is up to you to make sure that the other parent is served. Visit this section to learn about how to have the other parent served, and what to do if you do not know where the other parent can be found.

A copy of the summons and complaint (and anything else you filed) must be hand-delivered to the other parent (the “Defendant”). This is called "service of process." The Court does not serve the papers for you.  It is up to YOU to make sure the other parent gets served.

Please read the information on this page very carefully.  If the other parent is not properly served, your case could get dismissed and you will have to start all over! 

What to Serve the Defendant
When to Serve the Defendant
Who Can Serve the Defendant
How to Serve the Defendant
If You Can't Find or Serve the Defendant

You can find answers to more common questions about service on the Frequently Asked Questions: Service page.


What to Serve

The other parent must be served with the following:

  • A copy of the filed Complaint for Custody/Paternity
  • A copy of the Summons
  • A copy of the Joint Preliminary Injunction (if you filed one)

You will still have the original Summons. Make a copy to serve on the other parent, and keep the original. The original will have to be returned to the court for filing after the other parent has been served.


When to Serve the Defendant

Your documents must be served within 120 days after you file the complaint. If the other parent is not served within 120 days, your complaint will be dismissed and you will have to start all over.

If you cannot get the other parent served within 120 days, you can ask the Court to extend the time for service. You can use the following forms to ask the judge to extend the time to serve.  File the declaration with the court, and submit the order to the judge for review.

Declaration and Order to Extend the Time to Serve (pdf)

Declaration and Order to Extend the Time to Serve (pdf fillable) 


Who Can Serve the Defendant

The papers must be served by a "disinterested person." This means someone who is not a party in the case, not interested in the outcome of the case, and who is at least 18 years old. Family members and significant others (boyfriends/girlfriends) cannot serve the documents. You can ask a neutral person to serve the documents, or you can hire the sheriff or a private process service to serve the documents for a fee.  Visit the Sheriff’s Civil Process Section for more information on their fees and services.


Some judges require a licensed, professional process server to serve the documents.  Find out from the department assigned to your case if the judge requires this.  You can find a list of phone numbers to each judge's department by clicking here.

Can I Serve the Defendant?

You can serve the documents yourself ONLY IF the Defendant is willing to waive formal service. You have to give Defendant a copy of the documents, along with a notice and a waiver.  

If Defendant signs the "Waiver of Service of Summons and Complaint," Defendant will have additional time to file a response to your papers.  You must file the waiver with the court.  All of the forms and detailed instructions are in the packet below:

Waiver of Service of Summons and Complaint Packet (pdf)


How to Serve the Defendant

The other parent must be personally served with a copy of the documents. This means someone must hand-deliver the documents to the Defendant in person. The other parent can be served anywhere – at home, at work, etc.

Whoever serves the Defendant must complete an Affidavit of Service stating when, where and what documents were served on the Defendant.

Affidavit of Service (pdf)  Affidavit of Service (pdf fillable) 

If you use the sheriff or a private process server, they may have their own form to complete as proof of service.

File the affidavit with the court to show that the other parent was properly served.


If You Can’t Find or Serve the Defendant

You must do everything you can to locate the other parent and have them served in person.  However, if Defendant is evading service or cannot be found, you have two options:

If You Can Contact Defendant But Don't Have An Address, Request Alternate Service 

You can ask the judge for permission to serve by alternate means. This could mean sending the documents by email, by social media, by texting the documents, etc. 

Fill out all of the forms in the packet below and follow all of the instructions.  If the judge allows you to serve by alternate service, you will have to send the documents through every method the judge identifies on the order.

Alternate Service Packet (pdf)


If You Cannot Find Defendant At All, Request Publication

If you have no contact at all with the other parent and don't know where to find him/her, the judge expects you to do everything possible to try and find them.  Contact friends, family members, employers, coworkers, or anyone who might know where to find Defendant. Search for Defendant online through social networking sites and by email. You can also check the Post Office for forwarding information. Check with any source that might lead you to a good address. This is called doing your “due diligence.”  The judge will want to see you tried as many avenues as possible to find Defendant.

If you still cannot find the other parent, you can ask the Court for permission to publish the summons in a newspaper instead.  You may also have to mail the documents to a last known address if you have one. You will have to detail all of the efforts you made to find Defendant.

To ask the Court for permission to serve by publication, fill out all of the forms and follow all of the steps in the packet below. 

Publication Packet (pdf)

Publication Packet (pdf fillable)