If you're planning to divorce your spouse in New Jersey, one of the first steps you'll have to take after filing your petition is to ensure your spouse is served with the process. Service of process informs your spouse that you want to get divorced and provides them with notice that they must file a response within a set period. Once you serve your spouse with divorce papers, you'll file proof or acknowledgment of service with the court. This lets the court know that your spouse is aware of your divorce case and starts the clock ticking. Here's what you need to know about serving divorce papers. If you have questions, contact Ziegler Law Group, LLC to speak to a divorce lawyer in New Jersey.
What Does Serving Divorce Papers Mean?
When you file for divorce, you are required by law to give copies of your divorce complaint, the summons to respond, and other paperwork you have filed with the court. Service of process refers to the process of delivering the complaint and summons to your spouse in a way that follows the law. Courts want to ensure divorce papers are properly served to make sure that both parties are aware of the proceeding. Once your spouse receives the papers, they will have to respond within 35 days.
Your divorce complaint and the summons are the initial documents that must be filed to start a divorce proceeding. In the complaint, you will ask the court for a divorce, divide your assets and debts, issue child custody and parenting time orders, and order child support. You'll also state whether you are requesting alimony. The summons is a notice for your spouse that provides them with the date to respond and when the case will be heard by the court.
When you file your divorce paperwork in court, you will bring three copies. The original will be for the court, and the clerk will file it for you. The clerk will give you stamped copies back that includes the case number. You'll serve one set of stamped copies on your spouse and keep the remaining copies in your legal file.
Can I Serve My Own Divorce Papers?
People who file for divorce are not allowed to complete the service of process on their spouses themselves in New Jersey. Under N.J. Ct. R. 4:4-3, parties interested in the case are not allowed to serve legal papers. Only competent adults over age 18, the sheriff, the agent of your divorce lawyer in New Jersey, or a professional process server can complete the service of process. As the person asking for the divorce, you are an interested party, so you are not legally allowed to serve your own divorce papers.
Who Else Can Serve Divorce Papers?
Like other states, New Jersey allows you to complete the service of process in several ways. However, as previously noted, you can't do it yourself. New Jersey allows you to have the papers served by any competent adult over the age of 18. You can also ask for the sheriff's department to serve the paperwork, your divorce lawyer in New Jersey, your attorney's agent, or a professional process server.
A few examples of who you might ask to serve your divorce papers on your spouse include the following:
Friend of Family Member
You can ask any competent adult to serve your divorce papers for you other than someone who is involved in your case. The benefit of this is that you won't have to pay someone who is close to you to serve your divorce papers. However, if they don't strictly comply with the rules for serving legal documents and securing your spouse's signature on the acknowledgment, you'll have to redo the service.
Sheriff's Department Civil Process Server
You can call your local sheriff's department and request they serve your spouse. If you do, you'll have to pay mileage and a fee for every attempt they make. You must provide the sheriff's office with a specific address within the sheriff's jurisdiction. If you don't know of your spouse's specific location, going through the sheriff's office is not the best approach.
Professional Process Server
Professional process servers typically cost more than going through the sheriff's office. However, using a professional process server is better when you are unsure of your spouse's address. They also tend to be faster than using the sheriff's office.
Your Attorney/Attorney's Agent
If you retain a divorce attorney, your lawyer will likely handle the service of process for you. Divorce attorneys typically have agents they routinely use to properly serve divorce papers. A benefit of this method is that the service should comply with the laws, and acknowledgment or proof of service will be filed with the court.
What is a Process Server for Divorce in NJ?
A process server is a person legally authorized to deliver legal documents to defendants in various types of legal cases. If you use the sheriff's office or a professional process server, they will typically secure your spouse's signature and file the acknowledgment or proof of service with the court to show that service was completed. No matter whether you use the sheriff's office, a professional process server, or someone else, it's important to provide at least one address where they might find your spouse, including your spouse's home or workplace, and the times when they will likely be there.
How to Serve Your Spouse for Divorce in NJ
If you ask a friend or family member to serve your spouse, you'll need to give them stamped copies of your divorce complaint, summons, and proof of service. Tell them where to take the documents, and ask them to hand them to your spouse and obtain their signature. Once they have served your spouse, ask them to give you the proof of service so that it can be filed in court.
If you choose to go through the sheriff's office, call and ask how much it will cost. You will need to send a money order or check with the fees. You'll also need to send two stamped copies of the divorce complaint, summons, and proof of service and include a self-addressed, stamped envelope so the sheriff's office can send you proof that the process was completed. You'll also need to include a cover letter that contains the address where the server will likely find your spouse.
If you use a professional process server, you'll go through the same process as you would with the sheriff's office. Make sure you find a reputable process server, however.
A final way to serve your spouse with divorce papers is to send copies to your spouse by mail or certified mail. However, if you serve your spouse by mail, they will have 60 days to respond. If they don't, you'll then need to serve your spouse a different way. The court will not grant you a default divorce based on your spouse's failure to respond to service by mail.
If your spouse lives in another state, or you don't know how to find them, you should speak with your divorce lawyer for help with obtaining proper service.
How to Find a Good Process Server
There are many process service companies advertising your services, but some are better than others. To find a qualified professional process server, you should start by searching online. Read reviews about different process servers to compare them. You can also ask people you know who have recently divorced who they used. Finally, your attorney will likely be a good resource for finding a trustworthy process server.
A good process server should be experienced, professional, fast, and charge reasonable fees. The person you choose should be able and willing to complete the process of service quickly and in compliance with the rules. Don't be afraid to ask questions of anyone you consider to gauge their professionalism and promptness.
What If The Papers Cannot Be Served to the Defendant?
A divorce filed but not served will not proceed. Your spouse must know about the proceeding and have an opportunity to participate. There are a couple of things that you can do, however.
If your spouse simply refused to sign the acknowledgment of service, the process service can complete a proof of service in which they swear that they served your spouse. For example, if your spouse answered the door and then slammed it shut without signing the acknowledgment but took the documents, the process server can complete the proof of service. This document must include the name of the process server, the name of the documents they delivered, the time, date, and a statement that everything in the proof of service is true. The process server must also sign the proof of service and then either deliver it in person or mail it to the court. You should ask the process server to mail you a copy, too.
If the problem is that you can't find your spouse to serve them, you'll have to take a different approach. You are required to do whatever is possible to locate and serve your spouse. If you can't find them, or they are purposely evading service, you can file a request with the court to complete substituted service.
To do this, you'll need to file a motion with the court and an affidavit of each service attempt that has been made to serve your spouse. If the judge thinks that you have demonstrated you have tried to serve your spouse, they will issue an order allowing you to use a substitute form of service. The judge's order will include specific details about how you can serve your spouse, and you must follow the judge's instructions exactly.
The most common type of substituted service is service by publication. Most courts have people place notices in a newspaper that your spouse might reasonably be expected to read. The judge's order will tell you how long you must pay for the notice to appear in the newspaper. If paying for the advertisement is too expensive, you can ask the court if there are other options.
Since print newspapers are becoming less common in many areas, some courts allow people to complete substituted service in different ways. However, this is uncommon. Some examples of substituted service that have been allowed include social media posts, sending emails, sending a text message, or posting on the website of a newspaper or the court. Regardless of which type of substituted service the court allows you to use, make sure to follow the judge's orders exactly. If you don't, your case could be dismissed. This would leave you with no option other than to restart your case.
When Is Serving Divorce Papers Unnecessary?
If you and your spouse are amicable and have agreed to get divorced, you might wonder whether you can avoid the formal service of process. However, New Jersey requires the papers to be served with few exceptions. You can't file a joint petition for divorce in New Jersey.
You and your spouse could negotiate a full settlement agreement. One of you could file the complaint and summons, and the other spouse could sign the acknowledgment of service. You could then file the divorce settlement agreement with the court signed by both of you.
Consult a Divorce Lawyer in New Jersey
If you are preparing to get divorced and worried about how to tell your spouse you want a divorce, you should speak with the experienced divorce lawyers at Ziegler Law Group, LLC. We can discuss your case with you and help you understand your legal options. If you decide to move forward, we can draft the divorce complaint for you and file it with the court. We will then work to make sure your spouse is properly served or that we obtain an order allowing substituted service if necessary. Call us today to schedule a consultation at (973) 533-1100.
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