How Do I Serve My Spouse with Divorce Papers in New York?

Filing for divorce is a big step, and it's just the start of the legal divorce process. Whether you and your spouse agree it's the right move or – at the other extreme – you don't even know where your spouse lives, you need to provide them with notice of the divorce. 

New York courts want to give both spouses every opportunity to have a say in their divorce case. Therefore, you must make every effort to serve your spouse.

Plaintiff vs. Defendant in New York divorce

In a divorce case, the two parties involved are known as the Plaintiff and Defendant. The Plaintiff is the party who initiated the action by filing for divorce and is, therefore, seeking to dissolve the marriage. The Defendant is the person either contesting or accepting what the Plaintiff alleges in their petition. 

Most times, both parties will need to negotiate a settlement. This may include decisions on alimony, property division, child support, and other matters related to the marriage dissolution.

What papers should I serve?

You’re ready to serve papers when you’ve filed for divorce in New York. The clerk will accept your documents, stamp and date them, and start your case. Copies of those documents must go to your spouse, along with some official notices.

In general, the plaintiff in a divorce must serve these documents:

Some of these documents (such as the Summons and the Affidavit) are filed with the court to start your case. But others (like the Notice of Guideline Maintenance) are not. Make sure every document you’re serving has your index number (given by the court) written or typed at the top.  

How to serve divorce papers in New York

In New York, divorce papers may be served in several ways. We’ll go through each method below to help you understand how they work and who they’re designed for.

Hand delivery from one spouse to another 

If you’re certain your spouse won’t contest (or disagree) with any part of your divorce case and will sign official paperwork, you can deliver documents by hand. Gather up all of the paperwork you need to serve, and download an Affidavit of Defendant form. 

Your spouse must accept the documents from your hands; you can’t drop them off or leave them with someone else. Your partner must sign the Affidavit in front of a notary and file it with the court handling your divorce.

Hand delivery from a third party

If you’re not sure that your partner will argue, or you just don’t feel safe handing off the documents, you can ask for help.

Choose an adult (18 or older) unconnected to your case. If your partner is in New York, the server must also be a New York resident. If your spouse lives outside of the state, the person can be a New York resident or able to serve papers according to the laws where your spouse lives. You can use a friend, the sheriff, or a professional to help.

Bundle all of the documents you need to serve and download an Affidavit of Service form. Give these documents to your server.

Everything but the Affidavit must be handed to your spouse. The papers can’t be dropped off or left with someone else.

When the handoff is complete, the server must fill out and sign the Affidavit in front of a notary and give it back to you. File the document with the court handling your divorce.

Separate service

If you don’t know where your spouse is, or you’ve been unable to serve your partner through the methods listed above, you can ask the courts to approve a different method of service. Sometimes, people use the mail or the newspaper to serve a spouse. But you need the court to choose the right process and tell you how to tackle the steps properly.

How to choose the right server

Your process server plays a critical role in your divorce. You’re legally required to tell your spouse about the upcoming divorce, and if you don’t handle the service right, your case won’t move forward.

If you don’t have an adult willing to help, consider asking the Sheriff’s Office. You can work with a New York sheriff if your partner lives in the state, or you can reach out to the sheriff in the state where your partner lives. In New York City, the sheriff’s office charges $52 for this service. Fees may change by location.

You can hire a professional process server to help, and this can be a good option if you think your spouse will be upset with a sheriff’s visit. Professionals may also be useful in cases where the spouse is resistant to the divorce and good at dodging deliveries. The New York State Professional Process Servers Association can help you find someone ready to help. Prices can vary.

Where to get help

Many people think an attorney is the only person they can turn to for help. While you could use a divorce lawyer to help you, you could also turn to us at Hello Divorce. We offer affordable plans to give you the support and guidance you need to not only file your divorce petition but also serve your spouse. We can also provide you with access to legal coaching and other professional divorce help, should you need that assistance.


Serving the Defendant in an Uncontested Divorce. New York State Unified Court System.
Filing a Divorce Action. New York City Bar.
Serving Process. New York City Department of Finance.

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.