After you file a petition for dissolution (divorce), you must serve the petition on your spouse. This is technically called “service of process” and it is a formal process by which you notify your spouse of the divorce by having copies of the paperwork delivered to them. Service of process is generally referred to as just “service”. There are a few different ways you can serve divorce papers, discussed below. These methods also apply to the service of other family law petitions besides a petition for dissolution.
Private Process Server
You can hire a private process server to serve divorce papers on your spouse. A private process server is someone who is licensed with the state of Arizona to serve court documents. Private process servers vary in their pricing and how they operate. Some process servers charge by the hour for everything they do. Other process servers charge a flat fee for a certain number of attempts at serving your spouse. You can expect to pay in the neighborhood of $75 to $125 for the average serve. If your spouse is avoiding the process server, the cost will be more.
The process server will try to make contact with your spouse at home, at work, or some other location where they expect your spouse to be present. When they make contact with your spouse, they will confirm the identity of your spouse, and then hand them the divorce papers. The process server will then provide you with an “affidavit of service” which states under oath how and when the divorce papers were delivered to your spouse. Your process server should also file a copy of the affidavit of service with the court.
A sheriff or sheriff’s deputy can also serve your divorce papers. The sheriff will likely be slightly less expensive than a private process server, but as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. A sheriff will generally not attempt service outside of normal business hours, and is not particularly motivated to serve your papers.
Acceptance of Service
Hiring a private process server or sheriff to serve divorce papers on your spouse is not always the best way to start divorce proceedings. You can imagine some people might not be happy about being surprised by a stranger at night with divorce papers, or having the sheriff show up at their work to serve divorce papers. Starting the process by making your spouse angry could reduce the chances of an amicable resolution. An alternative is to communicate with your spouse about the divorce, and ask if they will sign paperwork acknowledging that they received copies of the divorce paperwork. This paperwork is called an “acceptance and waiver of service”. The acceptance and waiver of service is simply an acknowledgment by your spouse that he or she has received the paperwork; it does not mean your spouse agrees with the positions contained in the paperwork.
You can also serve divorce papers by sending them to your spouse via certified mail with a signed receipt. The problem here is that service is not complete unless your spouse actually signs for the certified mail, which may or may not happen. Many people will not sign for certified mail because they are afraid it is from a debt collector, or an attorney. We would consider this method unreliable, and just go with a private process server instead.
If your spouse is avoiding service, you can ask the court for permission to serve your spouse by alternative service. An example of avoiding service would be when the process server repeatedly goes to your spouse’s home, sees your spouse’s car out front, hears the t.v. on inside, sees lights on inside, and hears voices inside, but your spouse will not answer the door. If the court gives you permission to use alternative service, then you can serve your spouse through alternative means, such as by mailing a copy of the paperwork to your spouse’s address and posting copies of the paperwork to your spouse’s front door.
Service by Publication
If the whereabouts of your spouse are unknown, and you have made a diligent effort to locate your spouse (such as contacted a private investigator), then you can serve your spouse by publication. Service by publication requires publishing a copy of the summons, along with a statement as to how a copy of the petition for dissolution may be obtained, in a paper of general circulation in the county of your spouse’s last known residence, and in the county in which the petition for dissolution is pending, at least once a week for four consecutive weeks. It is very important to document all of your efforts to locate your spouse before proceeding with service by publication. It is important to note that service by publication is sufficient to move forward with the actual divorce, but it is insufficient to actually divide property or order spousal maintenance or child support.
The descriptions of the various service methods above are general in nature, and there may be additional requirements not set forth here. Setting forth all of the specific rules for the various service methods would make for a very lengthy and technical post. For the complete rules regarding service, go here.