After you file a complaint for divorce and pay your filing fees, you will need to serve your spouse with a copy of the complaint and summons on your spouse to get the process started. If you don't serve your spouse with the legal documents, your divorce case will not proceed. A divorce lawyer in New Jersey at the Ziegler Law Group, LLC can help to ensure your divorce papers are properly served on your spouse.
Why Do Divorce Papers Have to Be Served?
Divorce papers have to be served on your spouse so that they are fully aware of your divorce complaint and have an opportunity to respond. Your complaint for divorce and the summons will include the grounds you are alleging and details about the types of special relief you are seeking for such things as property division, child custody, child support, and alimony. Serving these documents to your spouse lets the court know that your spouse understands you want to get divorced and the types of requests you have made so that he/she can respond.
Who Can Serve Divorce Papers in New Jersey?
You can't serve your spouse personally with divorce papers since you are a party to the action. However, you can ask for one of the following authorized individuals to serve him/her for you:
- Your Process Server
- The county sheriff in the county where your spouse lives
Acknowledgment and Waiver
You can avoid going through the formal process of serving your spouse with divorce papers by asking them to sign an acknowledgment of service. This is a document that your spouse can use to state that he/she has received the documents and waives service of process. If your spouse agrees to sign the acknowledgment of service, he/she must sign in front of a notary public. If your spouse is represented by an attorney, he/she can sign the acknowledgment of service and return it to you. Once you have a signed acknowledgment of service, you or your lawyer can file it with the court.
Other Service Methods in New Jersey
If your spouse refuses to sign an acknowledgment of service or is actively avoiding the process server, there are a few other ways you can serve your divorce papers.
Service by Mail
You can serve divorce papers by mail to your spouse either through certified or regular mail. However, if your spouse doesn't respond within 60 days to service by mail, you will still need to serve him/her with the documents by a different method. The court will not enter a default judgment against your spouse based on service by mail.
Using the Sheriff's Office
County sheriffs have civil divisions that handle the service of process. You can contact the sheriff's office in the county where your spouse lives to learn how much it will cost. The sheriff's office will need the following information from you:
- Cover letter
- Two copies of the proof of service and the summons
- Two copies of the complaint for divorce
- A money order or check for the sheriff's fee
- Self-addressed, stamped envelope so the sheriff can mail proof of service
Service by a Private Process Serving Company
Many private process-serving companies offer to serve divorce papers. They do the same things that the sheriff's office does but typically charge a lot more money. If you choose to use a private process-serving company, make sure to check its reviews to ensure it is reputable.
What Happens If You Can't Locate Your Spouse?
There are some cases in which a spouse can't locate the other spouse to serve divorce papers. If you can show the court that you made several attempts to contact your spouse but couldn't find him/her, you can ask the court for permission to serve him/her through publication in a local newspaper. In rare cases, courts might allow people to serve divorce papers to a spouse online through email or social media.
What Should a Spouse Do After Being Served With Divorce Papers?
If you have been served with divorce papers, take the following steps:
1. Carefully Read Them
Read through the documents you have received, including the complaint and summons. The summons is a legal document that demands that you file your answer to the divorce complaint by a specific deadline. If you fail to file a response, your spouse might be granted a default divorce and all of the requests he/she has made in the complaint. When you file your answer, you will also need to serve it on your spouse. The deadline for filing your response to a complaint is 35 days after service in New Jersey.
2. Ask for Support
Don't post about your divorce on social media. Doing so will not give you the type of support you will need. Instead, tell your family and friends about your divorce privately. You might also seek referrals to other parties that can support you, including counselors, lawyers, financial advisors, and others to help you through the process.
3. Consult an NJ Divorce Lawyer
After you have read the divorce papers, it's a smart idea to consult a divorce attorney in New Jersey. An attorney can advise you about the issues in your case and help you craft and file your answer to the complaint. An attorney can help you in the following ways:
- Drafting and filing your answer & counterclaim if warranted
- Serving a copy of the answer on your spouse
- Advocating for your interests
- Negotiating with your spouse to try to reach a fair settlement agreement
- Helping you identify resources
- Meeting all deadlines
- Representing you in court
What Not to Do
If you have been served with divorce papers, don't ignore them. If you do, your spouse could be awarded a default divorce and all of the relief he/she has requested. You should also avoid engaging in conflict with your spouse. It will not help you. Instead, work with your lawyer to try to resolve the issues in your case so that you can move forward with your life.
Speak to a NJ Divorce Attorney
If you want to get divorced or have been served with divorce papers, the attorneys at the Ziegler Law Group, LLC can help. Call us today to learn about your options and next steps at (973) 878-4373.
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