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Serving Divorce Papers

It may seem obvious that you should notify your spouse of your intent to divorce, but actually ensuring that they receive notice can be much more difficult than many people expect. This is especially true when your spouse has moved away or maybe doing everything they can to avoid a divorce. Your case will be dead in the water if you cannot demonstrate to the court that they have been notified. To ensure that your divorce proceeds without delay, an experienced divorce attorney can make sure that your spouse is notified as required by law. 


Notifying the Other Spouse and Service of Process

When a divorce is started by one spouse in Washington, the law requires that the other spouse be notified of the divorce action. This is done by serving him or her with a copy of the Summons and Petition, or ‘divorce papers’. ‘Service’ means delivering a copy to them, and there are rules around how this must be done. This is a critical step in beginning the divorce process – if you do not follow the rules correctly, you cannot proceed with your case. Once your spouse has been properly served, the divorce can move forward and they now have a set period of time to file a Response to the Petition. If they fail to do so, you may be able to finalize the case by obtaining an Order of Default.


You Have Three Options 

There are essentially three different ways to notify your spouse of the divorce that the court will accept as valid service. Again, if you do not properly serve your spouse with notice of the divorce, your case cannot go forward. Even a minor or technical mistake can result in invalid service that leaves you unable to proceed. Many people who choose to represent themselves fail to properly serve their spouses, leading to delays and frustration. A divorce attorney will know which method of service is best suited for your case and how to make sure your spouse receives proper notice. 


Personal Service

The first option is personal service. Under this method, the divorce papers need to be personally delivered to your spouse. The papers cannot be mailed to them and must be delivered by someone over the age of 18 who is not involved in the case. Most law firms will use a professional process server for this task. There are two ways to achieve personal service: 

  1. Direct service. This is when you hand the papers directly to the opposing party. Even if they refuse the papers, the person delivering them can simply drop them and inform them that they have been served. 
  2. Abode service. This involves going to the opposing party’s home and delivering the papers to someone who lives there and is of suitable age and sound mind. 

Whichever method they use, the person serving your spouse will then complete and sign a Declaration of Service, sometimes referred to as a return of service or an affidavit of service. The Declaration will indicate the date and location of the service and be filed with the court. 


Acceptance of Service

If you expect your spouse to be cooperative, you can simply ask that they accept service. You or your lawyer can hand them the papers and then they will then sign an Acceptance of Service, which is an acknowledgment of receipt. If they sign the Acceptance, then you do not need to have them personally served as the Acceptance serves as proof that they have received the papers. The Acceptance also means that they cannot later claim that they were not properly served with the divorce papers. 

Spouses are sometimes reluctant to accept service, especially if they are unsure of whether or not they want to divorce. While Acceptance of Service can expedite matters, we recommend against trying to persuade your spouse to accept. Instead, encourage them to seek their own legal counsel to discuss whether Acceptance of Service is right for them. 


Filing Jointly

Another option is for both parties to file the divorce together, either by both signing as co-petitioners or by the other party signing a Joinder, which means they join in filing the petition. If either of these is done, then no service of any kind is required. In addition, your spouse will also not need to file a response to the divorce petition. Essentially, your spouse does not need to receive notice of the divorce because they are already a party. 


Alternate Service

If there are special problems, such as you no longer know where your spouse is living or they are evading service, it may be possible to have the court authorize alternate service.

You will need to describe the efforts you have made to locate and serve the spouse. Alternate service can take several forms: 

  1. Service by publication; or
  2. Service by mail; or
  3. Service by email

In these instances, the court must affirmatively rule on your request to alternate service.  If they agree with your request, then you can proceed with the manner outlined in the court’s order authorizing alternative service.  

Service by publication entails publishing a legal notice in the newspaper once per week for six weeks. Even if you have no idea whether your spouse has seen the notice, this will meet the service requirement. Unfortunately, it can take a significant amount of time and is much more expensive than serving them in person.

The quicker and easier way is mailing the divorce papers to your spouse’s last known address. You must send two copies of the divorce petition, one via regular first-class mail and the other via certified mail. Not only is this simpler than going the publication route, but it may actually be more likely that your spouse will receive one of the copies when it is forwarded to them

Finally, if the court allows for service by email, the court order will likely require that you send the documents by email to any and all email addresses that you are aware of for your spouse.  


Contact Seattle Divorce Services Today

At Seattle Divorce Services, our goal is to make the divorce process as seamless as possible for our clients. Let’s talk about your case and how we can help – contact us today at 206-784-3049 to schedule an appointment.