How to Serve the Divorce Papers
After you file for divorce, a copy of the summons and complaint (and anything else you filed) must be hand-delivered to your spouse (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 your spouse gets served.
Please read the information on this page very carefully. If your spouse is not properly served, your case could get dismissed and you will have to start all over!
You can find answers to more common questions about service on the Frequently Asked Questions: Service page.
Your spouse must be served with the following:
- A copy of the filed Complaint for Divorce
- 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 your spouse, and keep the original. The original will have to be returned to the court for filing after your spouse has been served.
Your documents must be served within 120 days after you file the complaint. If your spouse is not served within 120 days, your complaint will be dismissed and you will have to start all over.
If you cannot get your spouse 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.
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:
Your spouse must be personally served with a copy of the documents. This means someone neutral and not involved in your case must hand-deliver the documents to the defendant in person. Your spouse 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.
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 your spouse was properly served.
You must do everything you can to locate your spouse 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 attached packet 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.
If You Cannot Find Defendant At All, Request Publication
If you have no contact at all with the Defendant 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 your spouse 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 for your spouse. 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 your spouse, 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 your spouse.
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.