How to Serve Divorce Papers in Washington

Serving divorce papers on your spouse is a necessary step to get the divorce process moving. Make sure you do it correctly by reviewing this guide.

What does it mean to serve divorce papers?

Serving divorce papers is a legal term that refers to the process of formally delivering legal documents. In this case, we’re talking about divorce papers. You serve them “on” (to) the other party involved in a divorce proceeding. 

Properly serving these legal documents ensures that the recipient is officially made aware of the impending legal action. And, it gives them a chance to respond. 

Laws and regulations concerning the service of divorce papers can vary widely depending on the jurisdiction, making it crucial to understand the specific requirements in your area.

Resource for service of process: How to Find a Good Process Server

What documents will you serve to your spouse?

To start a divorce, several documents must be served to the other party. These typically include:

  • Family Court Cover Sheet: This form captures basic information about the parties involved in the divorce.
  • Complaint for Divorce or Divorce Petition: This main document outlines the reasons for the divorce (grounds) and what the filing spouse wants in terms of division of property, child custody, alimony, and so on.
  • Summons: This is a legal notice that a lawsuit (in this case, a divorce) has been filed against the recipient. It informs them of their rights and how much time they have to respond.

In some cases, a Joint Preliminary Injunction may also be served. This is a court order that prevents both parties from taking certain actions, like selling marital property or changing insurance policies, while the divorce is pending.

Ways to serve divorce papers in Washington

In Washington State, there are three primary methods for serving divorce papers: personal service, substitute service, and service by publication.

Personal service

This is the most common and preferred method of getting court papers to the respondent. Personal service involves hand-delivering the divorce papers directly to the spouse. The delivery must be made by someone who is not a party to the case and is at least 18 years old. They can be a friend, a county sheriff, or a private process server. 

Note that while a professional will charge you for their service, it helps you make sure your spouse is properly served because proof of service is required by the court. After serving divorce papers, the person must complete a Proof of Personal Service form and file it with the court to confirm that the papers were properly delivered. A professional process understands how to do this.

Substitute service

If personal service is not possible after multiple attempts, substitute service may be an option. In this method, the documents are left with a responsible person at the recipient's home or work, or they are mailed to the last known address.

Like personal service, the server must be at least 18 years old and not a party to the case. They must also mail a copy of the papers to the recipient and then file a Proof of Mailing form with the court. Note: Substitute service can only be used with prior court approval.

Service by publication

If a spouse cannot be located or is avoiding service, the court may permit you to “serve” them through a publication. Again, you’d need prior court approval first – and a good faith effort must be made to locate the spouse and serve them privately first.

In a service-by-publication situation, the notice of pending divorce is published in the newspaper where the spouse is likely to see it. 

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

Serving divorce papers to a spouse living outside of Washington can be complex, but it's not impossible. Here are your options.

Personal service

The most straightforward way is to have the papers personally delivered by someone over 18 who isn't part of the divorce case such as a friend, a deputy, or a professional process server.

Service by mail

You can also go to the post office and send the documents via certified mail, return receipt requested. This provides proof that the documents were received.


If you don’t know where your spouse lives or they cannot be located or seem to be avoiding service, the court may permit you to “serve” them through a publication. Again, you’d need prior court approval first – and a good faith effort must be made to locate the spouse and serve them privately first.

How long do you have to serve Washington divorce papers?

In Washington State, you have 60 days from the day you file your divorce papers to serve them to your spouse. 

If you are not able to serve them within this time frame, you may need to request more time from the court. 

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

Cost varies. A deputy is often the least expensive professional option. You could get a friend to serve the papers for free, but multiple things could go wrong that are far less likely if you hire a professional process server.

Hiring a professional process server often costs less than $50. However, if they have to make more than one attempt or work to serve your spouse (if your spouse is avoiding service), the cost may rise.

Watch: Complete Guide to Filing a Divorce Petition in Washington | Form FL-Divorce 201 Explained



Can I serve my spouse divorce papers myself? 

Generally, you cannot personally serve divorce papers to your spouse. A neutral third party over 18 years old must do this. 

However, if your spouse agrees to waive formal service, they can sign a form acknowledging receipt of the papers. In this case, you can deliver the documents yourself.

What if my spouse refuses to respond to the divorce papers? 

If your spouse refuses to respond to the divorce papers, you may be able to move forward with a default divorce.

In this case, the court may grant your divorce and make orders regarding property division, child custody, and other matters without your spouse's input. 

Read: Default Divorce: When One Spouse Doesn’t Respond

Can I mail the petition to my spouse along with an Acceptance of Service form? 

In some cases, you can mail the petition to your spouse along with an Acceptance of Service form. Your spouse must then sign and return the form, acknowledging that they received the papers.

What if my spouse has a lawyer? 

If your spouse has a lawyer, you can serve the rest of the papers directly to the lawyer instead of your spouse. Always send a copy of any other papers you file in the case to your spouse or their lawyer.

Remember, divorce laws vary by state. It's important to understand the specific requirements in your area.

If you're looking for support, look no further than Hello Divorce. We offer free resources as well as professional assistance with divorce in Washington. Let us help soften this journey for you so you can turn the page and get on with a new, exciting chapter of your life.

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.