After you file for divorce, the next step is to make sure your spouse is “served” with a copy of the summons and complaint (and anything else you filed). The Court does not serve the papers for you. It is up to you to make sure that your spouse is served. Visit this section to learn about how to have your spouse served, and what to do if you do not know where to find your spouse.
Please read the information on this page very carefully. If your spouse (the "Defendant") is not properly served, your case could get dismissed and you will have to start all over!
What to Serve
Your spouse must be served with the following:
- A copy of the filed Complaint for Divorce
- A copy of the Summons
Always keep the originals if the court gave them back to you. The original may need to be returned to the court for filing after your spouse has been served. Always make copies of documents to be served on your spouse.
When to Serve the Defendant
Your documents must be served within 120 days after you file the complaint. If your spouse is not served within 120 days, your case will be dismissed and you will have to start all over.
Who Can Serve the Defendant
The papers must be served by a "disinterested person." This means someone who is not a party in the case, not interested in the outcome of the case, and who is at least 18 years old. Family members and significant others (boyfriends/girlfriends) cannot serve the documents, as this could raise questions with the court. You can ask a neutral person to serve the documents, or you can hire the sheriff, constable, or a private process service to serve the documents for a fee.
The person who serves your documents must complete an Affidavit of Service that says when, where, and how the documents were served. The affidavit must be filed with the court to show that your spouse was properly served. If you use the sheriff, constable, or a private process server, they may have their own form to complete as proof of service. If you have someone else serve the summons and complaint, they can download and fill out the Affidavit of Service below, which will be filed with the court as the proof of service.
Generally, you cannot serve the papers. You can serve the documents yourself ONLY IF the Defendant (or Defendant's attorney) is willing to waive formal service of the documents and will accept the documents from you. The Defendant will have to complete a "Waiver of Service of Summons and Complaint" in front of a notary, and you must file the document with the court.
How to Serve the Defendant
Your spouse must be personally served with a copy of the documents. This means someone must hand-deliver the documents to the defendant in person. Your spouse can be served anywhere – at home, at work, etc. The person who serves the Defendant must complete an Affidavit of Service stating when, where and what documents were served on the Defendant.
File Proof of Service
Remember, the Affidavit of Service must be filed with the court so the judge knows when and where the Defendant was served. If this is not filed within 120 days of when you filed your complaint, the judge may dismiss your case! If you still have the original Summons, that must be filed as well.
Bring the Affidavit of Service and the original Summons (if you still have it) to the court for filing. Both must be filed.
If You Can’t Find the Defendant
You must do everything you can to locate your spouse. Contact friends, family members, employers, coworkers, or anyone who might know where your spouse can be found. Search for your spouse online through social networking sites and by email. You can also check the Post Office for forwarding information. Check with any source that might lead you to a good address for your spouse. This is called doing your “due diligence.” The Affidavit of Due Diligence (below) includes many suggested search websites. The judge will want to see you tried as many of those avenues as possible.
WARNING!Some judges require someone other than the Plaintiff to do the search for the Defendant. You may need to ask a neutral person to do the "due diligence" search and fill out the "Affidavit of Due Diligence" paperwork showing the places they searched. If you want a professional to do the search, you can look for people who offer "skip trace" services and they will try and find the Defendant for a fee. They should provide you with the required affidavit detailing their attempts to locate the Defendant.
If you still cannot find your spouse, you can ask the Court for permission to serve by publishing the summons in a newspaper and mailing a copy of the summons and complaint to his or her last known address. You will have to detail all of the efforts you made to find your spouse.
To ask the Court for permission to serve by publication, follow these steps:
- Try to have your spouse served at their last known address. Someone should attempt to serve the spouse at the last known physical address if at all possible. If this is unsuccessful, the person who tried to serve the spouse can fill out an Affidavit of Attempted Service to show the judge that an attempt was made at the last known address.
Affidavit of Attempted Service (pdf fillable)
Affidavit of Attempted Service (pdf)
- Mail a copy of the summons and complaint to your spouse's last known address. Mail this by regular mail (not certified mail). After mailing the summons and complaint, fill out a Certificate of Mailing indicating when, where, and to whom you mailed the documents. File this with the court.
Certificate of Mailing - Publication (pdf fillable)
- After mailing the summons and complaint, fill out the following forms. You must complete the Affidavit to Serve by Publication. The Affidavit of Due Diligence must be completed by whoever did the search for the Defendant. Complete everything in the Order to Serve by Publication except for the judge's signature line.
- File the two affidavits with the Court and submit the proposed Order to Serve by Publication to the judge assigned to your case. Bring the documents to your court to have the affidavits filed, and ask how to submit the proposed order to the judge.
- Wait for your answer. The judge will review your documents and decide whether to allow you to serve the Defendant by publication. You will get an answer back from the judge or the judge's staff, usually within a few weeks.
- If the judge signs your Order to Serve by Publication, contact a newspaper to arrange for publication. You will have to provide the newspaper with a copy of the Summons and the Order to Serve by Publication, and make sure the summons is published once a week for 4 consecutive weeks.
- Make sure the Affidavit of Publication is filed with the court. This is an affidavit the newspaper creates as proof of the dates that the summons was published. The newspaper may file this for you, but if they do not, be sure to ask for a copy of the Affidavit of Publication and file it yourself.