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Step-by-Step Guide: How To Serve Divorce Papers

  • January 22, 2020
  • by ServeNow Staff

How to Serve Divorce Papers

The decision to get a divorce comes with a whole host of complex emotions so serving divorce papers shouldn’t be an added burden. Hiring a professional process server to take care of the service for you can simplify the process and take the frustration of initiating the dissolution of marriage out of your hands. Here is the basic information you’ll need to get your divorce papers served the right way.

How do you file for divorce?

Before you think about serving your spouse, you need to file the correct paperwork. A divorce petition, or dissolution petition, is the initial paperwork filed and served to begin the divorce process. This petition, also known as a summons, outlines the marriage, defines what is being asked for in the divorce, and states the reason a divorce is being sought.

Depending on the state in which the divorce is filed, the petition typically includes a marriage license, birth certificates of spouses and children, if any, and financial statements including tax returns, investment and bank statements, and property and vehicle registrations.

How to get the correct legal divorce paperwork?

To file all of the required paperwork, visit the proper court, which is typically located in the county where you or your spouse resides. The court clerk will ensure you have all the correct documentation. Once stamped, the clerk will return two copies of your paperwork to you. One of these copies is for your personal records and the other must be served to your spouse.

What papers do I serve in a divorce case?

The papers that you will serve to your spouse in a divorce case usually include:

  • A copy of the filed complaint
  • A copy of the summons
  • A copy of the joint preliminary injunction

Once you officially file for divorce with the court and obtain all the necessary paperwork, a copy of the divorce papers including the summons, complaint, and any other relevant documents must be served to your spouse. Keep the originals of these documents as they will be returned to the court after service. The responsibility to get these papers served lands entirely on you and they must be served within 120 days after you file the complaint.

Who can serve divorce papers?

There are options when it comes to serving your divorce papers. Though neither you, your child, someone involved in the case cannot serve your divorce papers, sometimes mailing the legal paperwork with certified mail can constitute an effective service of process. However, mailing paperwork requires a return of acknowledgment. This may be difficult to get should the receiving spouse be attempting to avoid divorce.

In most cases, a professional process server provides the best chance of accurate and fast service since they often deal with evasive and difficult individuals firsthand. They are also familiar with all the laws associated with service of process so they are more likely to get service done the right way the first time. Even if a divorce is amicable and civil, it is still wise to hire a professional to take care of proper service. 

Remember to find a process server from the county in which your spouse lives, not your own county. To prove that the service was completed successfully, a process server will fill out an affidavit of service. This document is an official and notarized testimony detailing the date, time, and manner in which the document was served. You will later file the affidavit with the court and your spouse will be considered effectively served.

It is also important to coordinate with the server when they are attempting the serve as you cannot be present when the papers are served. 

How much does it cost to serve divorce papers?

The cost of serving divorce papers does not typically differ from serving other types of legal documents. The average cost of process service varies from $45 - $75. This number varies depending on location, case type, and requirements. For a final price, contact process servers near you by typing what city you need papers served in in the search bar above. Ask for prices and what the services include.

Please keep in mind that the price of serving divorce papers does not include the price to file for divorce or any other legal fees. Serving divorce papers is simply hiring a process server to deliver the legal documents to your spouse or the appropriate party.

How long does it take for divorce papers to be served?

Talk to your process server as it may vary depending on your specific circumstances. A serve without hiccups can happen as soon as a couple of days. Since a summons is only valid for a certain amount of time-based on your county, the papers must be served within that time period. However, it may last significantly longer if your spouse attempts to evade service or cannot be found.

The period of time that the spouse must be served divorce papers after filing varies across states. Some states restrict it to under 60 days, others have much looser standards of a year plus. The best course of action is to research applicable laws in your state, determine your case's situation, and serve your spouse the papers with extra time in case of unforeseen delays.

How do you serve divorce papers when your spouse can’t be found or is evasive?

This is another instance in which a professional process server can be useful. Typically, process servers are trained to find and serve individuals who don’t want to be served. Keep in mind that this may last longer and cost more depending on the server. If a process server cannot serve your spouse after three properly documented attempts, request a motion requesting substituted service with the court.

If physically serving divorce papers to your spouse is impossible, there are other actions you can take. Inform the court of your situation and they may offer solutions like:

  • Public notification
  • Electronic delivery
  • Service by mail (first-class or certified, with acknowledgment or tracking)

Public notification is a common way to "serve" a spouse that refuses or evades service. However, you must have court approval before taking any of the above steps.

Where can divorce papers be served?

Divorce papers can be served anywhere the spouse is. If all you have is a work address, it is possible to serve them at their workplace. They can also be served in prison or at a place where they regularly hang out, such as a gym or bar. Ideally, you can provide your process server with a current address and the server can go from there.

While it is possible to serve papers anywhere the spouse is, some advise to serve it in a neutral or private location if the spouse is not evading service. Receiving legal documents in a public space or in front of coworkers embarrasses people. Less embarrassment may lead to a more amicable proceeding.

Why hire a process server to serve divorce papers?

It matters who serves your divorce papers. With strict guidelines that vary from state to state and very limited options for having your divorce petition served, a process server can save you time, frustration, and conflict in initiating the legal process. Unlike other options that rely on your spouse’s signature and willingness to comply, a process server ensures quick delivery and will provide an affidavit of service to prove service.

Process servers are also trained in handling situations where the person being served may be disgruntled, uncooperative, or difficult to locate, and have experience serving papers in which sensitive matters including finances, assets, and children are involved.

With the legal process relying on your petition being served, trusting your paperwork in the hands of a professional process server is the fastest and easiest way to begin the legal divorce process.

What Happens After Divorce Papers are Served?

While judicial proceedings vary from state to state, the spouse who was served often responds to the divorce filing. This response should be mailed to the spouse who initially filed for divorce. The next usual step is scheduling a hearing/meeting with a judge or mediator to hear grievances and start the proceedings.

Since divorce can be difficult to navigate personally and legally, hiring an attorney is a wise choice. They can guide on the appropriate ways to respond and continue the case so that it meets your state's requirements.

Find a Professional Process Server

While serving divorce documents in only a fraction of the work required to complete a divorce, it is essential to complete this step correctly. Be sure to understand your state's requirements and hire a professional process server to serve documents so that there is a smaller chance for error. is a trusted network of local, pre-screened process servers and legal support professionals. To find a professional process server that can help you with e-filing services, search for a city or zip code.

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