How to Serve Divorce Papers in Florida

One of the first significant steps in a divorce, if you are the petitioner, involves serving divorce papers on your spouse. When you serve them, you officially notify them of the impending legal action. 

What does it mean to serve divorce papers?

Serving divorce papers, also known as service of process, is not just ceremonial. It's a formal way of giving your spouse notice that you have initiated divorce proceedings.

In Florida, you must follow specific rules and procedures when serving divorce papers. It’s vital to understand these rules and procedures before you start.

By serving divorce papers formally, you give your spouse, the respondent, official notice that the legal process of divorce has begun. They have a specific number of days (usually 20 days in Florida) to respond. If they fail to respond within this time, the court may proceed with the divorce without their input. This could result in a default judgment against them. 

Learn more about default judgments by reading our article, True Default Divorce vs. Uncontested Divorce

What documents will you serve to your spouse?

Divorce papers served in Florida typically include the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (the document that initiates the divorce) and the Summons (a document that informs the recipient of their rights and obligations in the divorce proceedings). 

The person who files for divorce (the petitioner) is responsible for making sure these documents are properly delivered to their spouse (the respondent).

Ways to serve divorce papers in Florida

In Florida, there are several acceptable methods you might use to serve divorce papers to your spouse. These methods ensure that the process is fair and that your spouse is given an opportunity to respond to the divorce proceedings.

Personal service

This is the most common way to serve divorce papers. In this method, the divorce papers are hand-delivered to your spouse. The delivery must be done by a sheriff's deputy, a professional process server, or a disinterested person over the age of 18. You cannot deliver the papers yourself. 

Once the papers are served, the server will provide a Proof of Service (or Service Return), which you'll need to file with the court to prove your spouse was properly served. 

The personal service method is typically used when you know your spouse's location.

Service by mail

If your spouse agrees, you can serve the divorce papers by certified mail with a return receipt requested. This means your spouse will have to sign for the mail, and you'll receive a receipt proving they received it. The receipt is then filed with the court as proof of service. 

This method is typically used when spouses are cooperative and in agreement about the divorce.

Service by publication

This method is used as a last resort when you cannot locate your spouse after making a diligent effort to do so. You can only use this method if you receive prior approval from the court. 

In this case, you can publish a notice of the divorce action in a newspaper of general circulation in the county of your spouse’s last known address. The notice must run once a week for four consecutive weeks. After the notice has been published, you can consider your spouse served and get on with your divorce process.

However, you should know that a divorce by publication may limit your ability to make claims against your spouse for property division or spousal support because the court may not have personal jurisdiction over the absent spouse.

Read: Everything You Need to Know before Getting Divorced in Florida

How to serve divorce papers to a spouse living outside of Florida

Serving divorce papers when a spouse lives outside of Florida involves some additional steps but is still entirely possible. Here's a general outline of the process:

Step 1: File the Petition and Summons

You'll start by filing your divorce paperwork, including the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and a Summons, with your local county court in Florida. You'll need to pay a filing fee unless you qualify for a fee waiver.

Step 2: Determine your spouse's location

You need to know where your spouse is residing so you can serve them the divorce papers. If you don't know their location, you might need to hire a private investigator or use legal methods to locate them.

Step 3: Use the Long Arm Statute

Florida's Long Arm Statute allows Florida courts to have jurisdiction over out-of-state residents in certain circumstances. You'll need to show that your spouse has sufficient ties to Florida. This could be due to them previously living in Florida, owning property in Florida, or having children who reside in Florida.

Step 4: Serve the papers

Once you've located your spouse and determined that Florida has jurisdiction, you can serve the papers. You can do this through a local sheriff's office or a private process server in your spouse's area of residence. Alternatively, you may use certified mail or even publication, if you cannot find your spouse after making diligent efforts.

Step 5: File Proof of Service

After your spouse has been served, make sure the person who served the papers fills out a Proof of Service form. This form must be filed with the court to prove your spouse was properly notified of the divorce proceedings.

How long do you have to serve Florida divorce papers?

In Florida, once you have filed your divorce papers (also known as a petition for dissolution of marriage), you must serve these papers to your spouse within 120 days. If you fail to serve the papers within this time, your case may be dismissed. However, you can request an extension from the court if needed.

How much does it cost to serve divorce papers in Florida?

Cost varies depending on where your spouse must be served and the method you use. Private process servers are often the most expensive choice, but they are also the most efficient.

FAQ about serving divorce papers in Florida

Do I need to serve my spouse if we are filing for a Simplified Dissolution of Marriage?

In a Simplified Dissolution of Marriage in Florida, both spouses jointly file the divorce petition. They are both petitioners.

As such, there is no need to serve divorce papers because both parties are willingly participating in the process and have signed the petition.

Can I serve my spouse myself?

No. In Florida, you cannot serve divorce papers to your spouse yourself. The law requires that a neutral third party, such as a Sheriff's deputy or private process server authorized by the court, serve the papers. This ensures the process is unbiased and properly documented.

What if my spouse refuses to respond to the petition?

If your spouse refuses to respond to the divorce petition within the 20-day timeframe, you can file a Motion for Default. This requests the court to treat the case as uncontested, meaning the court will proceed without your spouse's input. However, your spouse still has the right to appear in court and contest the default before the divorce is finalized.

If you’re thinking of serving your spouse with divorce papers in Florida and feel overwhelmed, take heart. We are here to help. At Hello Divorce, we offer free 15-minute phone meetings in which you can get valuable input from an account coordinator who understands what you’re going through. We also offer a host of services, including legal advice, and free online resources for you to examine.