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Divorce is one of the hardest legal events anyone will ever face. When you divorce, you face losses that are not just emotional, but financial and legal as well. This blog series will help answer some basic questions you might have about divorce.
When you file divorce papers, the court clerk stamps all the copies, keeps a few, and gives one back to you with a stamped summons, and maybe a stack of other informational documents. Then what? Then, you actually need to have the papers served on your soon-to-be ex. This process is called service of process. But can you serve the papers yourself?
Generally, when you serve initial court papers, you are not the person actually delivering the papers. Almost every state has professional process servers who, for a fee, will deliver your documents and sign a proof of service form. While some states offer alternative methods of service apart from personal delivery, personal delivery is the best method to ensure receipt cannot be disputed.
Getting your divorce served on your soon-to-be ex-spouse can be as simple as providing the stamped papers and their name and address to a process serving company or local sheriff's office, then paying the fee. Sometimes, more information will be needed if multiple attempts to serve fail. Service must be completed properly or you risk having your case dismissed, which is why even lawyers hire professionals.
The basic rules for who can serve your documents are nearly uniform across the states: The person must not be a party to the case and must be over 18 years old. Also, that person will need to be able to sign a declaration called a proof of service. A proof of service requires the process server to attest under penalty of perjury to the date, time, location, and manner of delivery.
Some states have additional requirements, such as requiring registration for independent process servers and companies who are paid for their serving services. Then, there's Louisiana, which requires service to be done through their local sheriffs' offices. The webpage for the California Courts provides a more in-depth explanation of who can be your process server in California.
If you are in a state that allows you to ask a friend or co-worker to serve the divorce papers, you will want to prepare the proof of service for your server to sign. Most states have a form, like California's, that process servers can easily fill out to answers the basic questions the court will need to know.
Keep in mind: UPS, USPS, and other mail delivery companies, while you can get a return receipt and require a signature upon delivery, will not complete a proof of service declaration.
Each state has different rules for what is considered timely service. Generally, when you file your papers, the court will set a hearing or conference date. Ideally, you will serve the papers in advance of that date, and with enough time to give the responding party time to respond before the hearing. Usually the summons or other documents the clerk returns to you will contain information about how long you have to serve the other party. Failing to meet deadlines can lead to your case being dismissed.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.