If you’re at a place in your marriage where you feel a divorce is impending, it can be daunting trying to understand where to start and how the divorce process works. For many of us, Hollywood movies have inaugurated the term “you’ve been served!”, but what does it truly mean to serve your spouse with divorce papers, and what are the practical steps needed to do so?
If you’re filing for divorce as a sole petitioner (meaning you’re starting the process on your own, rather than doing so as a joint decision with your spouse), you don’t need any type of consent from your husband or wife to go to the court and file a Petition for Dissolution. What you will need, however, is proof that once you’ve filed, you’ve served them the papers so that they’re aware and have the opportunity to respond.
Serving papers on a person is the formal delivery of legal papers to an individual who is involved in a lawsuit. It’s a necessary and legal process to begin the lawsuit that you are responsible for, making it important that you do your research and go about doing so correctly.
The two most common ways a Petition can be served are via hand delivery or certified mail.
The most important thing to remember about hand delivery is that it cannot be you who serves the paperwork to your spouse. Rather, you need to have a third-party individual do so for you. This person needs to be at least 18 years old and can be a family member or friend. If you’re hesitant to ask someone you know to involve themselves, you can always hire a professional, known as a process server. Process servers are experienced and tactful and will often go to great lengths to ensure your spouse receives those papers.
The general rule of thumb for hand delivery is that the papers must be delivered exclusively to your spouse, and any location goes: their house, work, at the store—you can get creative with this. What’s important to remember, however, is that a friend, coworker or boss can not accept the papers in your spouse’s absence at a work place or in a public venue.
One exception to this rule is the option to serve someone who lives in the same house as your spouse. In order to do this, the person has to be above the age of 14, and once served, you must also mail a secondary copy of the Petition to the same address. Even so, if your spouse later disputes that said personnel never lived with them, it’s on you to prove to the judge that they did in fact cohabitate and it was legitimate. In order to avoid any messy, he-said-she-said situations, it’s ideal to deliver the papers directly to your ex if possible.
Sending papers certified involves going to the Post Office and receiving a certified mail slip that will be attached to the envelope. This form will document and track the outgoing postage and will require the receiver (your spouse) to sign a form that will be returned to you, thus acknowledging that they were served the papers via US Mail. You can mail the postage yourself, which eliminates the third-party hassle, but you may run into a complication if you don’t have a good address for your spouse. Any address that you suspect your spouse may be located within will do, house or work, but without that signed return receipt, you won’t be able to move forward. If this is the case, you may need to re-strategize and look into serving the papers via Hand Delivery or consider alternative means.
Depending on your personal situation, you may find one of these options preferable over the other. Both are lawful, but note that once you file divorce papers, you have limited time to serve your spouse, with the option of a time extension available. If these procedures are not followed and you aren’t able to serve your spouse, your case may be dismissed. If you’ve put forth a good faith effort and still cannot locate your spouse, there are options available to proceed with your divorce, which can be read about here.
If you’re ready to file for divorce, understanding how to serve your spouse papers is a necessary step in the process. While it’s certainly not impossible to do so on your own, having a skilled attorney who is familiar with the process can make your divorce a far more seamless and stress-free experience with a better outcome. To contact a professional and skilled attorney in the Oregon and Washington area for representation, call Landerholm Law at 503-227-0200.