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How to Serve Your Spouse With Divorce Papers

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By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on October 26, 2015 9:21 AM

Serving divorce papers is relatively simple. But you do have to follow specific procedures and the details will depend on where you are getting divorced.

There are, however, some general principles that are consistent throughout the land. It will serve you well to familiarize yourself with these whether you have an attorney or are handling your divorce independently.

Learning the Terms

You are seeking the divorce, so you are the petitioner. As such, you must let the court and your spouse know that you are making your split official.

First, your divorce petition is filed in state court in the county where you reside. This informs the court of your intent to divorce. Next -- or sometimes simultaneously -- you inform your spouse and prove to the court that the petition has been served.

Service requirements are designed to ensure that all parties participate in the legal process. Failure to follow procedure to the letter will result in delays to your divorce, which is why it is important to serve your spouse properly, preferably the first time.

Process Service and State Procedures

There are five ways to serve divorce papers on a spouse, although each state has specific rules which you must follow. Which method is appropriate for you will depend on your state laws and personal circumstances.

1. Personal service: An adult that is not your child personally serves paperwork on your spouse, who signs and dates a document acknowledging acceptance of service. You will file that document with the court.

2. First class mail with acknowledgment: This method is simple and inexpensive. You mail your divorce petition with an acknowledgment form that your spouse signs, dates, and returns to you within a stated period of time. The drawback is that if your spouse does not respond to the petition within the time allotted, you will have to find an alternative means of service.

3. Certified mail with return receipt: This method of mail service uses the postal system's return receipt as proof of notification. You mail the petition and your spouse signs a slip attached to the envelope confirming receipt. The signed slip is sent back to you and you can use this for proof of service.

4. Personal service with professional process servers: There are people in every state and county who serve papers professionally. A process server is someone who ensures that the petition is delivered to the other party and attests to this independently. That means you do not need to rely on your spouse's kindness or cooperation to ensure that the divorce proceeds. Proof of service is provided by the process server rather than your spouse and filed with the court. In some counties you can also hire a local sheriff to serve papers.

5. Publication: This option exists because some people cannot be found and cannot be served. By publishing your intent to divorce in a newspaper where your spouse is most likely living for a specific period of time outlined by local law, you have fulfilled your obligations to notify the other party of your divorce.

To find out requirements in your state, see your state or county court website and speak to an attorney. Getting divorced is tough enough. It makes sense to get help with the whole process, not just service.

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