How Are Divorce Papers Served?

By Henry F. Lewis on November 26, 2019

Filling out divorce papers

In order for a Court to make orders in your case, it must have personal jurisdiction over the other party.  The way such jurisdiction is achieved, basically, is by serving the Petition, Summons, and related documents on the other party.

Making sure the other party is properly served is extremely important.  If it turns out service was not proper, it can be a basis to set aside any orders or agreements already made in the case.

So, how can the other party be served?

You Cannot Serve the Other Party

In California, a party to an action cannot serve the other party directly.  This generally means that you will need to help of an attorney, 3rd party, or a process server.

Personal Service

Generally, the Petition and Summons need to be personally served on the other party.   This doesn’t require actually handing it to the other party, though often that is the case.   A person, above the age of 18, would hand the documents to the other party.  They then need to fill out a proof of service of summons form, which needs to be filed with the Court.  Otherwise, the court will not know the other party was served, and will not move the divorce forward.

Sometimes, especially if there has been domestic violence or threats of domestic violence, you will want a County sheriff or professional process servers to serve the documents, as they have experience dealing with difficult personalities.  There is a cost associated with this option, but oftentimes the cost is worth the security.

Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt

In California, there is an option to avoid the need of personal service.  You can serve by mail and give the other party the option to accept service that way.  If you and your spouse have discussed divorce, and you are working amicably together, this is the best option.  It is cheaper and easy, though again you will need a 3rd party to mail the documents and sign a form stating they did so – including when and where the documents were mailed from.

If you do not know how your spouse will react to being served, this is not the best option.  It tells them you have filed for divorce, and makes it easier to avoid service if they want to make the process harder.   In that case, using a process server is the best option.

What If Someone is Trying to Serve Me?

My general advice is to simply accept service.  Evading service may prolong the proceeding, but eventually either you will be served (perhaps at work or somewhere else you would prefer not to be served), or alternative service will be allowed and you may not actually be notified (such as publishing in the courthouse or by publication).  You may not find out about the case until after it is over!

In addition, the Court can sanction you for costs incurred in trying to serve you.  The best approach is to accept the documents and file a response so you can take part in the proceeding. 

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Oakland Office

1939 Harrison St
Ste 210
Oakland, CA 94612

More Info Directions (510) 451-4822