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2024 How to Serve Divorce Papers in California?

By Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP | Jan 07, 2024

Filing the paperwork for a divorce is the first step in your journey. The second step is known as serving papers: notifying your spouse of the divorce case through the delivery of copies of the divorce documents. This formal process must take place whether you decide to approach divorce independently or with your spouse and their knowledge. Seek the guidance of a California divorce lawyer to make sure you adhere to all the requirements pertaining to serving divorce papers.

Documents Required to Include When Serving Divorce Papers

A third party must serve your spouse the papers. It cannot be done by you, even if your spouse already knows and is in agreement. This party is known as the server and can be appointed by you. Papers can be served in person, through the mail, or even electronically. To avoid delaying your divorce proceedings, make sure you, or allow a qualified attorney to, include all the appropriate documents and ensure they are filled out fully and correctly. Necessary forms include:

  • Petitioning for divorce (FL-100): This details basic information about you, your spouse, why you are choosing to dissolve the marriage, and the type of divorce.
  • Summons of your partner (FL-110): This form notifies your spouse that they must respond to the served papers, outlines the steps they are to follow, and describes what isn’t allowed during the divorce proceedings, such as hiding assets.
  • Response to divorce petition (FL-120): Include a blank copy of this form for your spouse to fill out and file with the court as a formal response to your request for divorce.
  • Discussion of children (FL-105): This form is only needed if you have children with your spouse who are below 18 years of age. It will detail the children’s birthplaces, whether they are involved in other cases, and information relevant to child custody cases.
  • Proof of service (FL-115): You only need to fill out the top portion of this document. The rest is to be done by your server. It details when and where the transference of papers took place and who served them. These documents show that the papers were served legally.
  • Optional forms: Property declaration (FL-160) to jumpstart the division of assets process by declaring your properties, finances, and debts. Childcare proposals (FL-133): This form can be used to outline and share your ideas for child custody prior to official custody proceedings.

How to File and Serve a Response to Divorce Petition Papers

You must file your response within 30 days of you being served your spouse’s petition for divorce. If you don’t, then your spouse may be able to ask the court for a default, meaning they can proceed with the divorce case without your participation or input. You can check with the court to see if your spouse filed for or was granted a default. If they haven’t, it’s still possible to file your response.

To file the response, bring your forms (the originals and two copies) to the courthouse and give them to the clerk. The copies will be returned to you, one for your records and the other for your spouse’s. The court keeps the original. It’s possible to mail these forms in a similar manner if you include the fee for filing and a pre-prepared envelope addressed to you for the clerk to return the copies. Otherwise, you’ll have to go to the courthouse to pick up the copies.

Upon filing, you need to pay a fee ($435-450) or ask for a fee waiver if you qualify (your income is below a predetermined amount, you receive public benefits, or you can’t both pay the fee and satisfy your basic needs). After you finish filing your response, you must notify your spouse by serving them their copy of the paperwork. This must be done by a server and not you.


Q: How Do I Serve Divorce Papers in California?

A: Once you file the divorce paperwork, you must inform your spouse through the formal delivery of the document copies. This process of serving papers is done by a server, an adult over 18 who’s unrelated to (has no claim in) your case. They may be an acquaintance, the county sheriff, or a professional you hire.

Your server must prove the delivery of paperwork by filing a Proof of Service form with the court. This method is called personal service.

Q: Can You Electronically Serve Divorce Papers in California?

A: Yes, it’s called electronic service, or e-service. It requires that all parties give consent to the process before moving forward with this method. To do this, you must inform the judge during the Initial Status Conference hearing that you wish to use e-service and provide evidence of all parties’ consent.

You may serve the paperwork directly electronically, through a server, or by a designated electronic filing service provider. Your spouse still needs to send a receipt of acknowledgment to the court.

Q: What Happens if You Can’t Serve Divorce Papers in California?

A: If the paperwork can’t be served, your case cannot move forward. If your spouse was served and doesn’t respond within 30 days, you can move forward; the court will make decisions without their input.

If papers cannot be served because your spouse is on a military base, commanding officers may be able to serve them. Otherwise, contact an attorney, as different statutes apply. If your spouse is incarcerated, a prison/ jail official will act as your server.

Q: How Do You Serve Divorce Papers if You Can’t Locate Your Spouse in California?

A: The server leaves paperwork with their manager or housemate, then mails additional copies and files their Declaration of Diligence. The spouse has 40 days to respond.

If their whereabouts are unknown after searching, you can request to serve by publication or posting. Pay a local newspaper to publish your documents once a week (mandatory for four subsequent weeks). With a fee waiver, you can request a serving by posting. Your paperwork is posted in a designated spot for notices within the courthouse.

Contact a Family Lawyer for Guidance and Counsel

There’s no need to approach the divorce process alone and attempt to follow all the detailed regulations, risking making mistakes and taking up more of your time. Reach out to us at Quinn & Dworakowski for an attorney who’ll help you through every step of the way.

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