After you file for divorce, the next step is to get your soon-to-be-ex “served.” “Service” simply means physically handing the initial divorce pleadings to your ex. (link to blog on what gets filed when you file for divorce). Here are the steps:
1. Your lawyer gets the summons “issued.” That means the Clerk of Court stamps the original divorce pleadings as “filed” and signs the top sheet, called a summons. They only do this after you pay your filing fee, which generally runs between $200-$300 in Tennessee.
2. You have several choices at this point for how to get those stamped pleadings from the clerk’s office to your spouse:
- You can get anyone other than yourself, who is over the age of eighteen years, to serve them. While this is free, we do not recommend it. While serving someone is not complicated, service must be technically perfect. If not, your entire divorce can be set aside. I once had a case where the process server signed the summons in the wrong place. The entire divorce was set aside.
- You can let us serve him. This is the cheapest and easiest option, but in those circumstances, you have to personally tell your ex that you have filed for divorce. That can be a difficult conversation. To additionally ask them to go pick up the papers at your lawyer’s office is sometimes provocative.
- You can allow a sheriff’s officer to serve them. While this is usually inexpensive, we usually do not recommend this strategy. Our experience is that the police are too busy and often don’t get around to timely serving your ex. They certainly have little time to coordinate with you. I once had a case where the sheriff served divorce papers while the kids were at home. A big scene ensued. It was unduly stressful for the children. I want to serve your ex while you and the children are somewhere else.
- You can hire a private process server. We usually recommend this option if you think your ex will contest some aspect of the divorce, or if you worry about an argument. We hire a private investigator that we are familiar with, who shows up at your ex’s house or job and politely hands him the paperwork. The benefit is that we aren’t confronting him with an officer wearing a pistol, we can coordinate when and where service happens with your schedule, and we know the paperwork will be served correctly and returned promptly. The cost usually runs about $125. We pay that fee out of your retainer.
What if you can’t find your ex? No worries. We simply file a Motion for Service by Publication. In that Motion, we document our efforts to locate them, and say we could not. We set it for a quick hearing. If the court believes we have done everything we can, the Judge will sign an Order for Publication. This allows us to file a Notice that you have filed for divorce in the local paper. After thirty days, we can move forward with your divorce.
3. Once your ex is served s/he has 30 days to file an Answer or a Motion to Dismiss your complaint. If they don’t, then you can file a Motion for Default Judgment.
From the day your ex is served, you have to wait sixty days if you don’t have children, and ninety days if you do have children, before you can finalize your divorce. So it makes sense to file and get service of process accomplished as soon as you can. We’re here to help with the details and make sure it’s all done properly. Give us a call when you are ready!