Avoid These Mistakes When Serving Divorce Papers

Costly mistakes can be made during any point of the divorce process, including the all-important first step: the serving of the divorce papers. If you’re getting divorced, it’s important to learn and thoroughly understand the divorce process so you don’t make expensive mistakes.

If you’re the one serving papers on your spouse, you have several options. You could hire a professional process server, hire someone over 18, or ask a local deputy sheriff to serve your papers. There are other options as well.

Potential errors in service of process

Notably, there are wrong ways to serve papers on your spouse – ways that could lead to legal trouble. For instance, it’s improper to serve your spouse the divorce papers yourself. Why? Because you’re an interested party in the legal matter, and service must only be handled by someone uninvolved in the process. Another potential error you could make is hiring a process server who is not accepted in your state.

Problems also occur when a process server fails to execute the process correctly. For example, they can't just leave divorce papers on the doorstep or in your spouse’s mailbox. If they do, the papers may not be considered properly served, and your divorce proceedings may be delayed. 

Other potential mistakes include the following:

  • The server fails to properly identify the individual being served. The server should make sure the person being served is the same person named in the divorce papers. 
  • The server fails to serve the papers in a timely manner. Divorce papers must be served within a certain time frame in order to be valid. 
  • The server keeps poor records. A process server must keep an accurate account of who was served and when. This can be done by keeping a copy of the divorce papers and proof of service. They must also provide you with an affidavit of service proving they did their job.

A server should make sure your spouse is properly served according to the law. This means hand-delivering the papers or leaving them at their last known address. 

Recap of how not to serve divorce papers:

  • Serving the papers yourself
  • Using a process server not accepted in your state
  • Using a process server who is unreliable
  • Using a process server who doesn’t provide you with an affidavit of service
  • Filing proof of service after the deadline

Potential consequences of improper service

If divorce papers are served incorrectly, the process may be delayed or halted entirely. The consequences of this can be significant, as it may give your spouse an opportunity to contest the divorce or take other legal action. 

It also reflects poorly on you and could suggest to the judge that you were trying to avoid serving the divorce papers on your spouse. Because courts prefer having both parties involved in the divorce, intentionally failing to serve your spouse could have significant consequences for you.

In some cases, it may also result in financial penalties, additional court fees, and more process server fees. Therefore, it’s important to make sure your divorce papers are served correctly and in a timely manner. 

Find the proper service guidelines for your state

Every state has its own guidelines and requirements for serving divorce papers. Slight variations may exist from one state to the next. For example, in one state, you might be required to use a process server. In another, using a sheriff may be your only option. The amount of time a spouse has to respond to divorce papers also varies by location.

Here are some links to state resources you may find helpful.

In most states, you’ll want to use a professional process server. Although this comes with a fee, it gives you peace of mind that your spouse is served according to your state laws. With a good process server, you’ll also be certain to receive an affidavit of service, letting the court know that your spouse was served correctly and on time.

Some states may require you to use a pre-approved process server from their list. Or, they may require you to use a deputy sheriff or other law enforcement officer. If you fail to adhere to these requirements, even if you think you’re doing the right thing, it could lead to a slowdown in your divorce.

The service of divorce papers is a vital step in the divorce process. Even if you and your spouse agree that divorce is the right step for your relationship, you still must serve divorce papers on them. And, under state law, they must be given adequate time to respond.

If you’re concerned or confused by all the legal jargon surrounding divorce, we can help. At Hello Divorce, our goal is to simplify and de-stress the divorce process as much as possible. Here are a few introductory resources to get you started:

And don’t forget to schedule a free 15-minute phone call with one of our account coordinators, which you can do at any time using this link.


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.