Proper Service

Marriage involves a shared legal interest in things like property, debt, and child custody, which is why when you file for divorce, you can’t just cross your fingers and hope your spouse gets the memo about when and where to show up.

Instead, California courts will require you to notify your spouse of your actions through a specific set of steps known as “proper service.” This ensures both sides have ample time to prepare for divorce, and are given the opportunity to be fully involved. 

Here’s what you need to know about executing proper service in California, and what our team at Maples Family Law does to help you with this important step. 

What is “Proper Service”?

You might have already heard, but in the U.S. legal system, due process is kind of a big deal. This important personal right ensures your interests are properly represented, and that you have a chance to defend yourself in front of a judge, when someone takes legal action against you. 

That’s why when you file for divorce, you have to notify your spouse—and not just any old text message will do. Instead, you have to execute this notification properly.  

“Proper service” (or “service of process,” as it’s sometimes called), is the formal notification method for telling your spouse that you’ve filed for divorce. This info alert is a required part of filing for divorce in California, and is typically accomplished by hand delivering copies of divorce paperwork to the other party.

Proper service is mandatory. Failure to follow the correct process puts your case at risk of being thrown out, and can cause frustrating delays. Which is why it’s best to make sure it’s done right the first time. 

How to Execute Proper Service in California

In California, executing proper service involves delivering copies of divorce paperwork to your spouse. However, in order to be valid, things have to be done “properly,” including: 

  1. Proper paperwork 
  2. Proper server 
  3. Proper process 
  4. Proper proof

Here’s a look at each of these, and how to make sure they’re done… well… properly

1. Proper Documents

First, you’ll need to make sure you’re delivering the right documents. In California, this usually means copies of all your divorce paperwork, such as your: 

  • Petition for Divorce
  • Summons 
  • Property Declaration
  • Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act
  • Child Custody and Visitation (Parenting Time) Application

You’ll also want to throw in a few blank divorce forms, including: 

  • Response—Marriage/Domestic Partnership
  • Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act

With these documents collected, you can then move on to the next step: choosing your courier. 


2. Proper Server

Naturally, proper service can’t be carried out by just anyone—you need the right one.

Luckily, the qualifications aren’t very strict, so you’ll have a lot of options to choose from; however, there’s one very important person who cannot serve papers: you. That’s right. In California, you cannot be the bearer of your own bad news. 

Instead, the notification must be carried out by someone who is: 

  • Over eighteen;
  • Not a party to the case; and,
  • Is identified by name and address on the return of service form.

Servers in California do not need to be licensed. Hence, you can choose just about any adult friend or family member to deliver paperwork for you. (Just make sure they’re responsible enough to complete and return proof of service.) 


3. Proper Process

California has several delivery options to choose from; however, the most common—by far—is hand delivering documents to your spouse. 

To do this, your courier simply needs to: 

  • Meet with your spouse at any location; 
  • Identify their purpose (to deliver divorce papers); 
  • Leave paperwork with them; and, 
  • Return proof of service to the clerk.  

If a spouse refuses to accept paperwork, servers are permitted to leave documents on the ground in front of the person.

Other methods of executing delivery include: 

Mail—must be done via certified mail, and include two blank copies of Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt. 

Substituted Service—occurs when a process server leaves papers at the person’s residence or workplace. 

Publication—carried out by printing a notice of the divorce in a major newspaper in the responding spouse’s last known location for four weeks. 

Posting—when notice of the divorce is posted at the courthouse. 

Generally speaking, hand-delivering divorce papers is the best and most widely used method of delivery. Alternative methods shouldn’t be used unless you have no other option. 

4. Proper Proof

Finally, don’t forget to have your server return proof of delivery to the court. 

In California, this proof comes in the form of a completed Proof of Service form. This written affidavit tells the court how, where, and when divorce documents were delivered, and must be signed and returned by your server, in order to conclude proper service.

After Proper Service

Your spouse will have thirty days to respond to your divorce paperwork. However, even if they don’t, your hearing will still go forward as planned. (Since, you know, California isn’t going to make you stay married, just because your spouse refuses to engage.) 

Instead, your judge will simply enter a default judgment in your favor. 

A default divorce grants a petitioner everything they asked for in their original complaint, and essentially operates as though the other party had agreed to everything. 

Obviously, this is not a great situation to be in. Hence, if you’ve been properly served with divorce paperwork, it’s best to simply speak to a family law attorney about what your options are, moving forward.


Do You Need Help with Proper Service in California?

Improper service can cause expensive time delays in your divorce process that no one wants; which is why it’s so important to get it right the first time. Luckily, an experienced family law attorney can help you do just that 

If you have more questions about how to execute proper service in California, and what that might look like in your situation, we want to hear from you. Call the Maples Family Law team at (209) 989-4425, or get in touch online, and let us worry about the filing logistics so you don’t have to.