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Serving a Spouse

  • by Danielle Montalto-Bly

After hiring a divorce attorney, one of the first things to be addressed is service. Sometimes our clients have already been served and the burden is removed. However, if a client is the one initiating the divorce, he or she is tasked with deciding the method of service. 

Depending upon whether a divorce will be hard fought or settled amicably, the way the initial documents (Summons and Complaint), are provided to a spouse, the arrangement may be different. Some spouses have discussed the impending divorce and will arrange for planned service. Some spouses do not speak about divorce at all, and plan to catch the other off-guard. Here are a few ways to properly serve someone with divorce documents: 

  1. Through a Process Server: Sometimes, people simply do not want to discuss the divorce directly with their spouse and prefer to handle it through the legal system. Other times, a client knows his or her spouse may try to avoid being served. When this is the case, we hire a process server to hand the documents to the person we are trying to serve. Their spouse generally provides a photo, address and the best times that the person will be home, if they have the information. The process server will use this information to try and reach the person directly. 
  2. Through a Non-Party Over 18: In order to save money or make the experience less hostile, some people choose to have someone they know hand the documents to their spouse. This is generally done by family members or close friends, who can hand him or her the documents without incident. We do not recommend having someone hostile, like a new boyfriend or girlfriend, serve the papers, as it can be dangerous and cause unnecessary drama throughout the divorce. 
  3. Through Attorneys: When both parties have lawyers, the attorneys can arrange to “accept” service. The attorneys will prepare and sign certain documents that can be submitted to the court in lieu of proper service. This is the most discreet and amicable way to handle service. Where one party does not have an attorney they can pick up the documents from your attorneys office as a form of acceptance as well. 

If service is successful using one of the above methods, the parties can begin to address the substantive issues of the divorce, like splitting assets or child custody. However, there will be times when service is difficult. This may result from a person trying to make it difficult, or because their location is unknown. Our attorneys can provide more insight about next steps when contacted directly.