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California Service of Process for Divorce
The Server

The server must be over 18 years of age and may not be a party to the action. He or she may be a friend or relative, an associate, a county sheriff, or a professional process server.

The server must serve the papers within the time requirement of action so that the recipient has time to exercise his or her rights to make a response. The server must complete a proof of service form that must be returned to the court. The form identifies the party served and states when, where and how it was served. It then becomes part of the record of the case.

In all divorce actions in California except summary, the divorce papers delivered by the server at the onset of the action are 1) the summons - family law, 2) the petition for divorce, and 3) a blank response form.

Types of Service

In personal service, the server delivers the divorce papers to the respondent, who is considered served the day the papers are received. Service can be at the respondent’s home, workplace, or even on the street. The server then completes a proof of service form, which is returned to the appellant to file in court. Often the server makes advance appointment with the recipient to expedite the service of process.

Personal service is the best way to serve process because it removes all doubt about receipt.

By Mail

The server mails the papers to the person being served at a home, mailing address, or business, and then completes a proof of service identifying to whom the papers were mailed, the address, when, and from where. The proof is returned to the petitioner who files it with the court. The recipient is considered served after five days.

Mail service is not very reliable because the court cannot be certain that the recipient received it.

Substituted Service

After the server makes three or more unsuccessful attempts to serve divorce papers, he or she delivers the papers to a person in the recipient’s home or office, then completes a declaration of due diligence, which documents his or her efforts to serve the recipient in person. The server also completes a proof of service. Both forms are returned to the petitioner to file with the court.

Petitioners use substituted service after several attempts at personal service have failed, and the recipient appears to be dodging the server.

Service by Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt

If the recipient agrees, he or she can be served by mail. In this case, the server mails the summons and petition, with two copies of the Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt. The recipient signs and returns one copy to the server, who then completes a proof of service form. Service is complete when the acknowledgment is signed and dated.

Service by Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt is used when the petitioner knows the location of the recipient and believes he or she will acknowledge the papers and return them.

Service by Publication

When a spouse cannot be located, the petitioner sometimes turns to service by publication. Service by publication requires the permission of the court and can be used only after the petitioner demonstrates to the court’s satisfaction that he or she has made a diligent effort to locate a missing spouse. Courts have varying standards about a diligent search, but after the petitioner makes a reasonable yet unsuccessful effort to locate his or her missing partner, he or she can apply for an ex parte application of summons order. The order permits the petitioner to publish the summons once a week for four weeks in a newspaper approved by the court. Service is complete 28 days after the first date of publication.

The rules governing service of process are described in California Code of Civil Procedure 412.10-412.30, 415.10-415.95, and 684.210-684.220.

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