Washington DC

Serving the Divorce Papers On Your Spouse

Authored By: Children's Law Center
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FAQ

What do I do after I file my divorce papers with the court?

You must serve a copy of the Summons and the Complaint on your spouse.

There are two ways you can serve the papers:

  • Personal service (hand-delivery) OR
  • Certified mail, return receipt requested.

 Who can hand-deliver the papers to my spouse?

Anyone 18 or older can hand the papers to your spouse.

  • It can be a family member or a friend.
  • You can also hire a professional process server.
  • It cannot be you.

Can I give the papers to my spouse?

No. You cannot do it. It must be another adult.

Can the papers be given to someone other than my spouse, like my spouse's mother?

  • The papers have to be given to your spouse directly, not to someone else.
  • There is one exception. You can give the papers to someone "of suitable age and discretion" who lives in the same home with your spouse. You will have to be able to convince the judge that your spouse lives with this other person.

Can the papers be given to someone at my spouse's job, like a receptionist or co-worker or boss?

  • No. The only other person who can accept the papers for your spouse is someone he/she actually lives with.
  • The only exception is if your spouse has specifically authorized someone else to accept the papers on his/her behalf.

Where can my spouse be given the papers?  

The papers can be delivered to your spouse anywhere that you can find him or her -- at home, at work, on the street, at a friend's house, at the gas station.

What if my spouse won't accept the papers?

  • If the person delivering the papers tries to hand them to your spouse but your spouse won't take them, it is probably good enough to drop the papers at your spouse's feet.
  • But if the person delivering the papers can't get in to see your spouse face to face, you will have to keep trying.

What is "certified mail, return receipt requested"?

  • Certified mail means that the Post Office gives you a slip that proves that you mailed a letter.
  • A "return receipt" is a green postcard that the Post Office attaches to the letter that the recipient must sign to show that he or she got the letter. The Post Office mails the green card back to you.
  • Be sure you keep the certified mail slip and the green card.

Who can mail the papers?

You can mail the papers yourself.

What address can I mail the papers to?

You can mail the papers to any address where you think your spouse will receive and sign for them (for example, home or work).

Can the return receipt (green card) be signed for by someone other than my spouse?

  • No. The green card has to be signed by your spouse.
  • There is one exception. The green card can be signed for by someone "of suitable age and discretion" who lives in the same home with your spouse.
  • You will have to be able to convince the judge that your spouse lives with this other person.

What if my spouse won't sign and the papers come back to me?

You will have to keep trying. You may want to try personal service.

 Which way is better, personal service or certified mail/return receipt?

They are both permissible. Which one will work better for you depends on your situation. You can try both methods at the same time.

How long do I have to serve the papers?

  • You have 60 days from the day you file your divorce papers to serve your spouse.
  • If you are not able to serve within that time, you can go back to the Family Court Intake Center before the 60 days are up. They will give you a new Summons and you will get an additional 60 days.
  • If you need more time after that, you will have to ask the judge for more time. You can file a written request or, if you have a court hearing before the 60 days are up, you can ask the judge then.

What if I can't find my spouse?

Read the section on Serving the Divorce Papers If You Can't Find Your Spouse.

What do I do after I have served the papers on my spouse?

Read the section on Filing Proof of Service in a Divorce Case to find out what to do next.