Proper Ways to Deliver Divorce Documents in New Jersey
Serving Divorce Papers is one of the Initial and Most Important Stages in the Divorce Process in New Jersey
You want to get a divorce but need help figuring out how to proceed. You know you must file papers with the court and serve them on your spouse, but you have questions about how to do it legally. You want to be sure that your divorce starts without delay. Your best source of information is in a family law attorney’s office, particularly an informed, experienced family lawyer such as ours at Montanari Law Group, but you can learn about the basics of serving divorce papers here. To discuss your divorce case and find out more about how we can assist you from before the filing, through service, negotiations, drafting agreements, litigating disputes, and beyond to post-divorce matters, contact (973) 233-4396.
What is Included in the Divorce Papers
When you sit down with a divorce attorney the first time, they take down your information regarding your situation, finances, children, employment, and other necessary details that may eventually find their way into a complaint for divorce. Included in the complaint are the dates of marriage and separation, the county of your residence, grounds for divorce (typically, irreconcilable differences), names and ages of your children, and requests for child support, alimony, child custody, and division of assets and debts.
The Process After the Divorce Complaint is Ready in New Jersey
Once the complaint is complete, an attorney files the complaint and accompanying documents with the court in the county where you and your spouse live or lived as married people. Filing means the court clerk stamps the papers with a filing date and court case or docket number. The docket number distinguishes your case from others and identifies every document you file with the court during your divorce. Once the necessary papers return from the court, you must get someone to serve them on the party named in the complaint as a defendant, your spouse, within 30 days of filing the papers.
Purpose of Serving Divorce Papers
Many people confuse service with giving papers to the defendant. Not anyone can “give” documents to the opposing party. The purpose of the service is to notify the other party of the divorce action. Proper service means you have proof that the other party has the papers or is aware of the documents and, therefore, has notice of the action. The court wants to ensure that people receive notification of actions filed against them, so they have specific rules about good service.
Guidelines for Serving Divorce Documents in NJ
For numerous reasons, you may not be able to serve your spouse. However, your attorney can contact your spouse’s attorney and ask them to accept service on behalf of your spouse. However, when your spouse has no attorney, you must have a qualified individual or service to deliver the papers personally to your spouse. A family member over 14 years old or another authorized person may also receive the divorce papers at the home address or work when your spouse is not available.
Sometimes, people refuse or dodge service. In that case, you may mail the divorce papers via certified mail to your spouse’s home or work address, with a return receipt request or postal instructions to deliver to your spouse or an authorized person only to receive the mail. Often, a party or attorney mails certified and regular mail to ensure your spouse gets the documents. However, you must personally serve your spouse when they do not respond to the complaint after 60 days of mailed service.
Other times, the defendant accepts service without fuss, and at other times, the defendant agrees to receive the papers and acknowledge in writing that they received the documents. They do this by signing and notarizing an Acknowledgment of Service indicating they received the divorce papers. Your spouse’s attorney can also sign the Acknowledgment. In other words, there are varying degrees of cooperation regarding service.
The Role of the “Return of Service”
Once service occurs, the server, who may be a process servicing agent, your attorney, a county sheriff in your spouse’s county, or an individual with no interest in the divorce, must file an affidavit of service with the court, which is called return of service. Included in the affidavit is the name of the person serving the documents, a description of the person served, their approximate age, the service address or location, the time, and papers (by name) delivered.
What are Process Servers?
Process servers or the sheriff in the country where your spouse lives are familiar with the process and know how to serve a person, fill out the affidavit and file it with the court. They also know how to find someone who is avoiding service by staking out their residence, work address, or other methods to catch the person. Once they do, they call the person’s name for identification and serve the papers on them. But if you cannot find your spouse, you may get permission from the court to publish the complaint or summons in a local publication servicing your spouse’s last known address or, possibly, on social media.
What Happens After the Person Has Been Served with the Divorce Papers?
Process servers cost money, so it is best if your spouse cooperates and signs an affidavit that they have received the divorce papers and acknowledges service. Once your spouse gets the summons and complaint, whether by a process server, county sheriff, attorney, or agreement, the clock starts ticking for a response. A person served must respond to a summons and complaint within 35 days of service. For that reason, the exact date of service is significant. A late response risks a default, meaning the defendant has no say in the proceedings, which can go on without them. A timely response allows the defendant to contest what you request in your complaint and anything else later in the divorce.
If You Need Assistance Serving Divorce Papers in New Jersey, Contact Us to Guide You in Every Step of the Process
Since proper service is critical in a divorce, you should have an educated, trained divorce attorney oversee serving your spouse. At Montanari Law Group, we know which forms to file and what legally satisfies a family law court to prove that your spouse received the divorce papers. And when your spouse has an attorney, you can save lots of time, money, and aggravation by having our lawyers complete service through your spouse’s attorney. Moreover, when publication is necessary, our family law attorneys are familiar with petitioning the court for permission to serve divorce papers by publication and the paperwork required to accomplish service that way. So, when you plan to divorce, talk to a family lawyer at our Little Falls office who can help streamline the service process for you or handle difficult situations arising with service. We assist clients with the divorce process throughout Newark, Paterson, Wayne, Hackensack, Jersey City, Woodland Park, Fort Lee, and towns throughout Passaic County and Northern New Jersey. Call 973.233.4396 today for your free divorce consultation.