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. 

How to serve divorce papers in Florida

The concept of “service of process” is critical in Florida law. Essentially, this means you have given a person who’s party to a lawsuit (like a divorce) a copy of the documents that pertain to the case.

To serve papers in Florida, follow these steps:

  • File your divorce paperwork with the Florida court you chose.
  • Get official copies of that paperwork back.
  • Bundle official copies and a blank proof of service form into a packet.
  • Give the packet to someone else to deliver (or serve) them for you.
  • Ask your server to sign and file proof that the work is done.

You must serve papers within 120 days of filing your lawsuit. If your spouse doesn’t respond within 20 days of the service, you’re entitled to ask the court to move the case forward without their input (or divorce by default).

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 has the chance 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

If you cannot find your spouse, you may be able to take this approach. However, 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 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 lives 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. This table of estimated costs can help you understand the differences:


Potential Cost

Sheriff’s office serves papers

$40 (varies by county)

Private process server delivers papers


Service by publication


Filing proof of process service

$0 filing fee

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 willingly participate 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 time frame, 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.

What should I do if my spouse is actively refusing to be served?

If you’ve tried in-person service and your spouse won’t respond, consider asking the sheriff’s department to serve the documents for you. The sheriff can give the paperwork to anyone older than 15 with whom your spouse lives. If the sheriff can’t deliver paperwork, you can go to the court and explain the problem. In that case, another method (like mail or publication) might be approved.

What if I don’t know where my spouse lives?

You may be able to serve your spouse by placing a notice in a publication. Service by publication (also known as constructive service) comes with some risks, however. Courts may have limited power over someone who doesn’t live in Florida who is served this way.

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.


The 2023 Florida Statutes (Including Special Session C). The Florida Legislature.
Instructions for Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure Form 12.91(a). The Florida Courts.
Service Packet, Special Service, and Fees. Leon County Sheriff’s Office.
How Much Does a Process Server Cost? National Association of Professional Process Servers.
Divorce Content Specialist & Lawyer
Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Legal Insights

Bryan is a non-practicing lawyer, HR consultant, and legal content writer. With nearly 20 years of experience in the legal field, he has a deep understanding of family and employment laws. His goal is to provide readers with clear and accessible information about the law, and to help people succeed by providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the legal landscape. Bryan lives in Orlando, Florida.