In order to initiate your divorce, California law requires that you let your spouse know you’ve begun the legal process—and in this case, shooting off a quick text won’t cut it. For your notice to be valid, you must provide the other party copies of the same paperwork you filed with the court, and it has to be done in a certain way. In legal speak, this is called service of process—but most people simply call it “serving divorce papers,” or “service.”
How to Serve Divorce Papers in California
One important thing to keep in mind, is that your judge will not be able to make a judgment, or create any permanent orders until divorce papers have been properly served to the other party. During your initial divorce consultation, your Stockton divorce lawyer will explain the different service methods, but if you haven’t yet had a chance to meet with an attorney yet, here’s a quick run-down of how to make sure your divorce isn’t delayed by improper service.
Using a Process Server
One way of serving divorce documents, is good old-fashioned hand-delivery. This method is called personal service, and in California—so long as they meet the right criteria—any of the following people can serve divorce papers on your spouse:
- County sheriff or marshal
- Professional process server
However, there are certain things might disqualify one or more of these individuals from carrying out the task. In order for these individuals to qualify as a proper process server, the person must:
- Be over the age of 18; and,
- Not be part of your divorce case.
In addition to these two requirements, the person you choose must serve the paperwork within sixty days from the day you filed for divorce (though, more time can be requested, if needed). They must also fill out a proof of service form, and return it to you, so that you or your lawyer can file it with the court. A proof of service form tells the court who was served, when it happened, where it happened, and how it happened.
Substituted service is only available when you have already made several unsuccessful attempts to personally serve the other party. If your situation qualifies, your server will be allowed to leave the papers in the possession of someone else at the other party’s house (so long as they are at least 18 years old). The same restrictions for service of process apply in substituted situations, and the server must also to write up a “Declaration of Due Diligences” detailing the efforts that were made to serve in person prior to substitution.
If your spouse does not agree with the divorce, and is trying to stall the proceedings by making it difficult for you to serve, you may need to consider service by posting or publication, instead.
Service by Publication or Posting
Service by publication involves publishing the summons and complaint in a newspaper where the other party is likely to be. For this method, the court’s permission is mandatory, and can be obtained by filing a Form FL-980. The notice must also run at least once a week for four weeks, the cost of which will come out of the plaintiff’s own pocket.
Service By Posting
Alternatively, if you don’t know where your spouse lives, you may be able to complete service by posting. This involves asking the court for permission to post notice at the courthouse, which is only granted if special requirements can be met, including detailed proof that substantial due diligence was made to contact the other party via other avenues, to no avail.
Service By Mail
A person who is not part of the case may also mail the documents to the other party’s home or business. Service is considered complete after five days from the date of postage, however it isn’t always the most reliable. Which is why it’s really good idea to stick to Certified or First-Class mail.
What Happens if My Spouse Ignores Service?
Sometimes during divorce, one party wants to split, while the other doesn’t. If your spouse is attempting to stall your breakup by not responding to properly serviced documents, you don’t need to worry. Individuals who don’t respond within thirty days are in danger of default. In a default divorce, the dissolution will continue on without the other party, usually with the judge simply agreeing to the terms put down by the party who filed.
Do You Need to Talk to a Stockton Family Lawyer About Divorce?
Navigating the requirements of document service can be tricky and overwhelming. Luckily, this isn’t a process you have to complete on your own. If you need to advice about serving papers, or want to talk about other divorce-related matters, one of our Stockton attorneys can help. Call us at (209) 546-6870 for a consultation. Let us help you develop a strategy that gets you the best possible outcome in your case.