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How to Serve Divorce Papers on Your Spouse: Methods

You didn’t get married thinking that one day you’d get divorced. But it happens frequently, and while it’s an emotional time, you shouldn’t blame yourself. Instead, focus on the logistics of the divorce process to make sure it moves along smoothly and without issue.

One of the best ways to minimize the potential for future headaches is to serve divorce papers on your spouse correctly.

Filing for divorce: What are the first steps?

If you’ve decided to divorce, you may be unsure what happens next. You have a lot to think about, from physically separating from your spouse to starting your new life. The legal process of dissolving your marriage is another issue that’s likely at the forefront of your mind.

Let’s delve into the specifics of what you need to do.

As the spouse requesting the divorce, you’re usually called the petitioner. You need to compile some information before you can formally file a petition for dissolution of marriage. Though the process varies by state, you generally need the following information:

  • Your name, address, and Social Security number
  • Your spouse’s name, address, and Social Security number
  • How long you have lived in the state
  • Whether you have minor children and, if so, their names and dates of birth
  • The legal grounds for divorce
  • Your request for how property, custody of minor children, child support, alimony, and debts should be distributed

Once you gather this information and complete the petition, you must file it with your clerk of court. You must also pay a filing fee (or fill out a fee waiver, if eligible). The clerk will provide you with a case number. And, at this point, it’s time to serve your spouse.

How do you prepare to serve your spouse?

There are only a couple of documents you must provide to your spouse when you serve them:

  • The petition for dissolution of marriage, sometimes called the complaint
  • A summons

What are the methods of serving a divorce Petition?

Note that you must be able to prove you served your spouse. Thus, it’s never recommended that you serve your spouse. Instead, it’s always a good idea to have a disinterested party serve them the divorce papers.

Every state has its own acceptable methods for serving divorce papers. One option is to hire a process server who will serve the papers on your spouse. 

Hire a process server

This is one of the best methods because process servers are good at what they do, especially if your spouse knows the papers are coming but doesn’t want to receive them. 

Your attorney serves your spouse

Although this can be done, it’s often not the best idea. Using your lawyer to serve your spouse isn’t a direct conflict of interest (like it would be if you served your spouse), but it can be confrontational. Your spouse may not want the divorce, and seeing your lawyer could worsen matters. While an option, consider this only as a last resort. 

A friend or co-worker serves your spouse

As long as the individual is over the age of 18 and has no interest in the divorce, meaning they’re not a relative and especially not a child of the marriage, a friend or co-worker could be your process server. It will be your job to ensure this person follows the state and local rules for service of process. 

A sheriff or deputy serves your spouse

Most sheriff’s offices offer process serving. Some charge a small fee, and it’s usually less expensive than a full-time process server, though some charge a mileage fee, so if your spouse lives far away, that could get more expensive. However, if you’re not sure where your spouse is currently living, this could create a problem. Unlike a professional process server, a sheriff won’t go looking for your spouse – you need to provide a definitive address.

A neutral third-party adult serves your spouse

As long as a person isn’t an interested party to the divorce and they’re a minimum of 18 years old, they can serve divorce papers. However, this isn’t always the best choice. People unaccustomed to this job may get nervous or forget to record the date, time, and location of when they handed over the divorce petition. But if absolutely necessary, you could go this route. 

Publish a notice in the newspaper

If you don’t know where your spouse lives, you can publish a notice of your divorce petition in the local newspaper. Local and state requirements dictate when you can do this and how long the notice must run. This can be a good (but slow) service of process method.

How do you provide proof of service to the court?

In every instance, you must provide proof of service to the court. Professional process servers have a standard document that courts easily recognize, making this another great reason to hire one. 

In some cases, a spouse may waive service. Service of process is commonly waived in an uncontested divorce when both of you agree the marriage has reached its natural conclusion.

Reminder: check your state and county regulations

Serving divorce papers on your spouse can be challenging, especially if you don’t know where they live at the moment. Luckily, you have options. Just remember that every jurisdiction has slightly different rules and requirements for serving another person.

For example, in California, the general guidelines above apply. California requires process servers to file a proof of service form telling the court when, where, how, and who was served. It’s your job to return that form to the court.

In Colorado, anyone over 18 who’s disinterested in the divorce can serve papers on your spouse. An automatic injunction takes effect when you file which prohibits either of you from taking certain actions while your divorce case is pending. This can help ease concerns about safety during the divorce process. 

Texas only allows certain people to act as process servers, except in special situations. This means that only a professional process server, a sheriff, or a constable can serve divorce papers on your spouse. If these options are unavailable to you, only then can you request to send your spouse the divorce papers via certified mail. If that doesn’t work, you must file a motion for substituted service that allows a constable, sheriff, or professional process server to leave a copy of the divorce petition at the location where you know your spouse resides or works. (It generally doesn’t come to this, but the option is available if the regular process is ineffective.)

Utah allows more general service of process options than Texas, but the state requires you to file proof of service with the clerk before any further action occurs in your case. You must also provide a copy of the proof of service to your spouse. 

No matter where you live, you must serve divorce papers on your spouse after you’ve filed the divorce petition. Hello Divorce offers various plans for filing your divorce tailored to your unique needs. We can help you keep your divorce on track by helping you serve your spouse divorce papers.