Getting served with Court papers can turn an amicable relationship, or even semi-bad relationship into one seething with hatred. The method of delivering the news of the impending divorce has the power to instantly turn a personal relationship into a very impersonal and shocking affront. Keeping this in mind, it is important to discuss the various methods of service with your attorney in order to maintain some peace between the two of you. What method of service you use will depend on the relationship as well as your demeanor and ability to communicate with your former spouse-now-turned-opposing party. It is important to inform your attorney about them as an attorney will not have this knowledge.
In most states there are three forms of service. 1. Service by the Sheriff, 2. Service by a Special Process Server and 3. Delivery of service by the filing party.
1. Service by the Sheriff – One of the main functions of the sheriff’s office is to serve court papers. The fees associated with the sheriff’s office are often fairly minimal. However, there is no guarantee of when the sheriff will serve the papers. If you are someone who wants to have the opposing party served quickly, then you may not want to have the sheriff serve your court papers.
Further, there are factors of perception. Some people are especially embarrassed when an official-looking person serves them with court papers. This can cause a spectacle depending on where the party is served – or the opposing party may perceive this as a result of service by the sheriff.
In more rural counties, the sheriff’s office may not be particularly busy and they may be able to serve your court papers quickly and make numerous attempts if they are unable to locate the party to be served. However, in larger counties the sheriff’s office may have a lot of court papers to serve and may not be able to make numerous attempts to locate and serve the opposing party. Once thirty days has expired, the summons is often not valid and then you must request that the court prepare you a new one, pay a new service fee to the sheriff’s office and rely on the sheriff to try to serve the summons again. Often times if this happens the opposing party gets wind of the fact that the sheriff is trying to serve them – which can lead to various other problems.
The sheriff can serve the opposing party at any address where they can be found (provided that these addresses are given to the sheriff), but often times the home address and work address are the most common ones used for service. Keep in mind what type of reaction you might anticipate from the other party if that party is served at their place of work or at their home. Again, this can turn a normally communicative relationship where the parties might be able to discuss the various issues associated with divorce into a relationship with zero communication. This is especially important to keep in mind if you have children in common where the ability to work out arrangements will be important to the outcome of your court case.
2. Service by a Special Process Server – A special process server is a person that is able to serve court papers that you personally contract with for their services. When they serve these court papers they are often in street clothes. Often times your attorney will have a special process server that they use for all of their cases. Their fees can vary depending on where they are located and how many attempts they have to make to serve the individual. Normally, they are a little more expensive than the sheriff’s office, but for some clients their services may be worth it.
Special process servers are good to use if you believe that the opposing party will avoid service or be hard to serve. With special process servers, you have a little more control over when and where the papers are served. If you know the whereabouts of the opposing party, you can contact the special process server and most of the time they will go to that location at the necessary time to serve the papers. Further, if the party is extremely hard to serve, they will do such things as wait outside their place of employment and serve the opposing party when they are getting in their car. Being in plain clothes allows the special process server to get in places unnoticed where a sheriff cannot and the opposing party is more likely to talk with them or answer the door because they do not realize that this average-looking person will be serving them with court papers.
I often use a special process server. I find that clients are usually happier with their services because there is less chance of a bad reaction from the party being served. I use special process servers because, often times, they get the paperwork served more quickly and in a discrete manner. Further, I am able to contact the server and keep them up to date with information because my firm is contracting for their services, versus the sheriff’s office which is busy serving many individual’s court papers.
When using a special process server, you should think strategically about where you are going to have the opposing party served. Again, the most common places are at their residence and at their place of employment, and you may still want to consider the repercussions possibly associated with either of these locations.
3. Hand Delivery – The Filing Party Delivering Service To The Opposing Party– This method of service cannot be used in every case and it is not as simple as it sounds. Obviously, there is no service fee associated with this form of service. If you choose to use this method of service, it requires that the opposing party file a pleading accepting service in this manner with the Court. This pleading is called a Voluntary Entry of Appearance and Waiver of Service of Summons.
Often times, it is hard to get the opposing party to sign the Voluntary Entry of Appearance and Waiver of Service of Summons so that you/your attorney can file it with the Court. Without this pleading, you will have to serve the opposing party with a summons either via the sheriff or via special process server. And these options may be considered if you have tried to serve the summons and failed.
This method of service is often times considered the least offensive method of service and it seems to promote the most peace between the parties. However, you must know the other party well. Will serving them in this manner tip them off to your filing and allow them to make arrangements that will negatively affect the outcome of your case? Even if they won’t sign the
Voluntary Entry of Appearance and Waiver of Service of Summons they may still have examined your pleadings. Even though you have achieved little, in this instance, you will still have to go through the whole process of having them officially served with these same pleadings.
If time is of the essence, this may also not be the best form of service as it can often take the opposing party a while to sign the Voluntary Entry of Appearance and Waiver of Service of Summons and return it to your attorney.
Choosing the appropriate form of service comes down to you knowledge of the party being served and the tone you wish to set for your case. Depending on how you wish to proceed, there are pros and cons to each form of service. However, it is important to think about the reaction that each form of service will elicit from the other party and the place and manner in which you will have that party served.
The manner of delivering that first piece of news can take your divorce case from a non-contested case to one that is heavily-contested. This very preliminary move, like every other concerning your case, is something to be discussed with your attorney as it is an important part of the strategy of your case.