Deeper Dive: Understanding the Laws of Divorce Before Filing Summons

In the first part of our series, Deeper Dive: Understanding the Legal Differences between Divorce and Annulment, we examined the conceptual difference between a legal divorce and legal annulment. In this article, we look at the various types of service of process allowed for a divorce summons, state residency qualifications, processing times and state issued filing fees from Alaska to Missouri. In the next part of the series we’ll examine the remaining states as well as pitfalls associated with serving a divorce summons or complaint. 

What to know before filing a Divorce Summons or Complaint

Let's face it, divorce can be one of the most stressful events in a person’s life, despite those rare cases where a divorce is considered amicable. Even couples who’ve decided to legally part ways using a conciliatory approach can quickly find themselves escalating into a contemptuous legal battle. Understanding divorce laws by state, before serving a divorce summons or complaint is the best way to avoid escalating an already less than jubilant situation. 

Although divorce laws, including laws regarding service of process (the process by which your spouse is notified of the divorce proceedings) are broadly similar across the United States, significant state-to-state differences remain. Understanding state laws and regulations for divorce is imperative in avoiding costly, and often time-consuming mistakes. These differences usually involve mandated physical separation or ‘cooling-off periods’, required amounts of time as a resident in that state, as well as varied processing times for finalization, fees and grounds upon which to initially file a divorce summons or complaint. As with most judicial proceedings, hiring legal counsel is highly advised in a divorce, for all 50 United States and abroad. 

Some states require couples to have completed a long period of separation before filing a summons for divorce, while other states maintain no separation qualifications at all. The qualifications for who is allowed to serve a summons and complaint also varies. The opposing spouse can always fill out a form agreeing that he or she has been notified, thereby eliminating the need for service of process. There are different types of service of process that can be utilized in serving a summons related to divorce. 

Service of Process Used for a Divorce Summons

  • In person service-delivery of the papers in person by an acceptable process server.
  • Substitute service-handing the documents to a competent person. This is typically a person of minimum age.
  • Service by certified mail, return receipt requested.
  • Service by publication-in a printed newspaper. Typically allowed only when the opposing spouse couldn’t be located by the previous forms of service of process. 
  • Exceptional cases include service of process on a prison official when your spouse is in prison, or military guidelines for those overseas during deployment. 

Divorce Rules by State

Below is an alphabetical list of divorce summons rules that apply by state, from Alabama to Missouri with links to the state pages for additional information and resources. In our next version, we will pick up with Montana through Wyoming in the final article of this Deeper Dive series focused on divorce.

Alabama

  • Divorce rules: Six months of state residency; 24 months separation. The filing fee is $154; processing time averages 210 days.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: Anyone over 18 who is not a party to the divorce.
  • Forms of service of process: Send via first-class mail, send a copy by certified mail, return receipt requested, or hire a sheriff or private process server to serve your spouse.

Alaska

  • Divorce rules: No state residency qualifications, no separation qualifications. The filing fee is $200; processing time averages 30 days.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: Process servers must be licensed.
  • Forms of service of process: In-person, substitute service or in limited cases by certified mail.

Arizona

  • Divorce Rules: Three months of state residency; no separation qualifications. The filing fee is $321, processing time 150 days.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: Process server must be licensed.
  • Forms of service of process: Service by acceptance, by U.S. mail, private process server, county sheriff and/or publication.

Arkansas

  • Divorce rules: Two months state residency; 18 months of separation required; processing time of 540 days; $165 filing fee.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: The county sheriff or his deputy, or anyone appointed by court order.
  • Forms of service of process: Personal service by sheriff, certified mail, service by “warning order” in limited circumstances.

California

  • Divorce rules: Three months’ state residency; no separation requirement; filing fee $395; processing time approximately one year.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: 18 years old and not a party to the case.
  • Forms of service of process: Personal service, substituted service, service by certified mail, service by publication, or service by posting at the courthouse, depending on the circumstances.

Colorado

  • Divorce rules: 12 months state residency requirement; no separation requirement; filing fee of $230; and processing time of about six months.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: Any non-party over 18. 
  • Forms of service of process: Service by mail (first class or certified, return receipt requested), process server, waiver of service, service by publication. 

Connecticut

  • Divorce rules: Six months state residency; 18 months of separation, $225 filing fee; processing time averages 90 days.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: A state marshall must serve divorce papers.
  • Forms of service of process: Must be done by state marshall unless the spouse cannot be found; then service by publication is permitted.

Delaware

  • Divorce rules: Six months of state residency, six months separation, $150 fee. The process takes about six months.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: The sheriff or any person who is not a party and is at least 18 can serve divorce papers.
  • Forms of service of process: In person, or by certified mail if the spouse being served does not live in Delaware.

District of Columbia

  • Divorce rules: Six months of state residency in DC; six months living apart; $80 filing fee. The process takes about six months. 
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: Service may be made by handing a copy of the process, notice, or demand to an officer of the entity, a managing or general agent of the entity, or any other agent authorized by designation or by law to receive service of process for the entity if the individual served is not a plaintiff in the action.
  • Forms of service of process: In-person, substitute service or service by certified mail.

Florida

  • Divorce rules: Six months state residency; no separation requirement; $409 filing fee; six or seven months processing time.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: You can serve them yourself under certain circumstances; otherwise, the server must be the local sheriff or someone approved by the court.
  • Forms of service of process: Serve the papers directly on your spouse or his/her attorney, have a sheriff serve the documents in person, or hire a process server authorized by the court to serve the papers personally. Service by publication if you cannot locate your spouse.

Georgia

  • Divorce rules: Six months state residency; no separation requirement; $218 filing fee, approximately seven months for processing.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: Anyone approved by the county sheriff who is over 18 and not a party to the case.
  • Forms of service of process: In-person, substitute service, or if you cannot locate your spouse service by publication.

Hawaii

  • Divorce rules: Six months state residency; two years separation; $175 filing fee; approximately seven months for processing.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: By the sheriff or the sheriff's deputy, police, someone appointed by the court, or by any person over 18, not a party to the action.
  • Forms of service of process: In-person, substituted service, service by certified mail or service by publication, depending on the circumstances.

Idaho

  • Divorce rules: One-month state residency requirement; 60 days separation requirement; $129 filing fee; approximately two months for processing.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: Authorized by the court, over 18 and not a party to the case.
  • Forms of service of process: In-person, substituted service, service by certified mail or fax and by service by publication-depending on the circumstances.

Illinois

  • Divorce rules: Three months state residency requirement, 24 months separation requirement; $337 filing fee, a processing time of approximately six months.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: The sheriff or someone appointed by the court who is 18 and not a party to the action.
  • Forms of service of process: In-person, substitute service and service by publication. 

Indiana

  • Divorce rules: Six-month state residency requirement; no separation requirement; $157 filing fee; approximately eight months processing time.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers:  A sheriff’s deputy or anyone over 18 who is not a party to the case. 
  • Forms of service of process: In-person, service by certified mail.

Iowa

  • Divorce rules: No state residency requirement; no separation requirement; $185 fee; approximately three months processing time.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: Yourself, a sheriff's deputy, or a hired private process server.
  • Forms of service of process: In-person, certified mail.

Kansas

  • Divorce rules: Two months state residency; no separation requirement; $180 filing fee; approximately four months processing time.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: Sheriff’s deputy.
  • Forms of service of process: You can obtain a signed and notarized "Voluntary Entrance of Appearance" form from your spouse, have your sheriff's department serve the papers or certified mail.

Kentucky

  • Divorce rules: Six months of state residency;  two months separation requirement; $148  filing fee; approximately six months processing time.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: The sheriff.
  • Forms of service of process: In-person, service by certified mail.

Louisiana

  • Divorce rules:  No state residency requirement;  six months separation requirement; $324  filing fee; approximately six months processing time.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: You or a sheriff’s deputy.
  • Forms of service of process: In-person, service by certified mail.

Maine

  • Divorce rules: Six months state residency;  no separation requirement; $120  filing fee; about two months processing time.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: You or a sheriff’s deputy.
  • Forms of service of process: In person, or by certified mail.

Maryland

  • Divorce rules: One-year state residency requirement; one-year separation requirement; $135  filing fee; approximately one year processing time.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: The sheriff, a professional process server, or anyone over 18 who is not a party to the case.
  • Forms of service of process: In-person, or with special permission of the court through certified mail.

Massachusetts

  • Divorce rules: One-year state residency; no separation requirement; $215  filing fee; about four months processing time.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: A sheriff or constable
  • Forms of service of process: In-person, service by publication if you cannot locate your spouse.

Michigan

  • Divorce rules:  Six months of state residency; no separation requirement; $150  filing fee; approximately eight months processing time.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: A member of the sheriff's department, police officer, professional process server, or anyone over 18 who is not a party to the case.
  • Forms of service of process: In-person, certified mail or other method authorized by the court.

Minnesota

  • Divorce rules: Six months state residency; no separation requirement; $402 filing fee; approximately six months processing time.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers:  A professional process server or the sheriff.
  • Forms of service of process: In-person, certified mail requesting notarized affidavit from your spouse.

Mississippi

  • Divorce rules: Three months state residency; no separation requirement; $52  filing fee; approximately eight months processing time.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: 18 years or older and not a party to the divorce; often done by a sheriff.
  • Forms of service of process: In-person, service by first-class mail, service by publication if the spouse cannot be located.

Missouri

  • Divorce rules: Three months state residency; no separation requirement; $189  filing fee; approximately four months processing time.
  • Qualifications for serving divorce papers: sheriff or professional process server.
  • Forms of service of process: In-person or service by publication if the spouse cannot be located.

 

This list overviews some of the basics of divorce and service of process for the summons by state. Some points to remember--an opposing spouse can, in most all states, voluntarily agree to accept service of a divorce summons. In fact, you may even file a joint divorce petition. And, if your spouse has already retained a lawyer, you may have to serve the papers on your spouse's lawyer, so check your state and local laws before filing a divorce summons. You will save time and money by fully understanding your legal rights in a divorce ahead of time. If you have questions about service of process or you’re interested in obtaining service of process contact ABC Legal Services here

Look for our next article in this series, Deeper Dive: Understanding Legal Divorce as it will break down regulations and rules on the remaining states as well as common mistakes to avoid when serving a divorce summons. 

About ABC Legal Services

ABC Legal is the nation’s leading service of process and court filing company and is the official process server to the U.S. Department of Justice. Docketly is a subsidiary of ABC Legal, providing appearance counsel on a digital, custom-built platform that smoothly integrates with our applications and services. ABC Legal’s applications are cloud-based and compatible for use on desktop, browser, and smartphones. Our solutions and digital approach ensure process server partners, law firm customers, and their clients save valuable time and resources when serving legal notices safely and with maximum compliance, control, and transparency. ABC Legal is based in Seattle, WA, with more than 2,000 process servers throughout the U.S., as well as internationally in more than 75 countries. To learn more about ABC Legal, our solutions, and subsidiary company Docketly, visit www.abclegal.com

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