To be served with divorce papers or to have one party served is the first step in the legal divorce process. One party, called the Petitioner, initiates the lawsuit by filing a document with the clerk in the court that has jurisdiction. The document informs the Respondent, who is the person who is being sued for divorce, and the court what the allegations are against the Respondent, and what the Petitioner wants the court to do.
The service process does not stop with the filing of the papers with the court. It is up to both parties to serve each other, personally or through counsel, with all documents filed in the divorce. Neither party can have a hearing or finalize a divorce without showing proper service.
In some types of cases, the Petitioner must provide personal service to the Respondent, such as an enforcement action. This means someone must hand the document to the Respondent, personally. This is most often done by a process server, who is a person the Petitioner hires for the specific purpose of handing the document to the Respondent. In most divorce cases, service through the mail is acceptable when setting a notice of hearing or other ancillary motions.
If the Respondent cannot be found, the Petitioner’s attorney can file a motion with the court and ask for an order allowing for service by one of several possible alternative service methods.
Those methods may include service by publication on social media, by taping the document to the front door, by publication in the local newspaper, email, or another creative method.
If you are served with a lawsuit, you need to contact an attorney as soon as possible. There is a time limit by which you must file what is called an “Answer” to the lawsuit. If you do not file your answer by that date, the Petitioner can request a default judgment against the other side and get all the relief they are asking for without the other party being present.
If the court enters a default judgment against you because you failed to file your answer with the court, that means you have lost the case. It is very difficult, and in some cases impossible, to have a default judgment reversed. There is a time period in which to file a Motion for a New Trial.