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Serving the Divorce Papers On Your Spouse

Authored By: Children's Law Center
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Information

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

You must properly serve a copy of the Summons, the Complaint, and the Notice of Initial Hearing on your spouse. You are responsible for serving your spouse, not the court.

There are three ways the papers can be served:

  • Hand-delivery OR
  • Certified mail, return receipt OR
  • Regular mail with defendant’s written acknowledgement

There are other ways the papers can be served, but you need to get permission from the judge first. For more information, see Serving Divorce Papers If You Can't Locate Your Spouse or If Your Spouse Is Evading Service.

Who can hand the papers to my spouse?

Anyone 18 or older -- but not you.

  • It can be a family member or a friend.
  • You can hire someone to do it. You can hire anyone, or you can hire a professional process server.
  • It cannot be you who hands the papers to your spouse.

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 must be given to your spouse directly, not to someone else.
  • There is an exception. The papers can be given 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.
  • If your spouse authorizes, in writing, someone else to accept the papers, then you can serve that 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 authorized, in writing, someone else to accept the papers.

Where can my spouse be given the papers?

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

What if my spouse won't take the papers?

  • If the person delivering the papers tries to hand them to your spouse but your spouse won't take them, it may be good enough to drop the papers at your spouse's feet, if the person delivering the papers can identify the person as your spouse and says to your spouse that these are court papers for a divorce. The judge will decide whether this is good enough.

What is "certified mail, return receipt"?

  • 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 actually received 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 by someone other than my spouse?

  • No. The green card must be signed by your spouse.
  • There is an exception. The green card can be signed 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 the return receipt (green card) and the mail comes back to me?

You will have to keep trying. You may also want to try hand-delivery. At a certain point after you have made efforts to serve, you may be able to request permission for service by other means. For more information, see Serving Divorce Papers If You Can't Locate Your Spouse Or If Your Spouse Is Evading Service.

How does service by regular mail and acknowledgement work?

  • You mail the papers by first-class mail together with (1) two copies of the “Notice and  Acknowledgement of Service” form and (2) a return envelope, postage pre-paid, addressed to you.
  • Your spouse must sign the acknowledgement in order for this to be valid service.

Which way of serving the papers is better?

All three methods are permissible. Which one will work better depends on your situation. You can try more than one method 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 request more time. You should request more time before the 60 days is up if you can. You can file a written request or, if you have your initial court hearing before the 60 days are up, you can ask the judge then.
  • If you do not follow these procedures, your case may be dismissed and you will have to file a motion to vacate the dismissal or file a new case and start all over again.

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

You must be file written proof of service, signed by the person who served the papers. Read the section on Filing Proof of Service in a Divorce Case to find out what to do next.

What if I can’t find my spouse, or I have been unsuccessful after trying these other methods?

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

Last Review and Update: May 16, 2019