Last Updated on October 9, 2021 by Melody McDonald
Have you been served divorce papers?
Service of process, or service of citation, is legal notice that provides a spouse with notice that a divorce has been filed. Service is a necessary step in divorce unless the respondent has properly waived formal service.
Service of divorce papers is governed by the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.
What does it mean to serve divorce papers?
“Service” or “service of process” is the term for the legal notice you provide to someone when they have been sued in court. Filing a petition for a divorce is initiating a lawsuit, so your spouse is entitled to receive proper notice of the filing and all of the documents that have been filed. This process is necessary so the receiving spouse, or the “respondent,” has the opportunity to respond to the divorce petition with an answer, either accepting your demands, contesting your demands, or requesting an extension to answer. Service is a critical component of all civil litigation, including divorce.
How Divorce Papers are Served in Texas
In Texas, the rules for service of process are set forth in the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. Although there is some buzz that now you can serve divorce papers online in Texas, it is important to note that personal or mail service is still the preferred method.
Under Texas rules, process cannot be served by the party themselves. The petitioner typically must hire a sheriff or constable, or other process server to actually deliver the documents. The two primary methods of service include:
- Delivering a copy of the petition and citation to the respondent that shows the delivery date, or
- Mailing a copy of the citation and petition to the defendant by registered or certified mail, requesting a return receipt
These methods both require a hard copy of the documents to be delivered to the respondent. In the rare case that neither of these two methods is available, the petitioner (the spouse who is filing the divorce papers) now can serve divorce papers online in Texas. The petitioner must submit a Motion for Substituted Service and an affidavit swearing that they could not successfully serve the respondent. To do this, the process server must list all of the unsuccessful attempts they have made to serve the respondent. If the court is convinced the respondent cannot be reached, they can authorize the petitioner to serve the citation and petition by:
- Leaving a copy of the citation and petition with someone older than 16 years old who lives at the location where the respondent is likely to be found, or
- Serving the respondent in any other manner, such as electronically, like email or social media, such that the notification is reasonably likely to give the respondent notice of the divorce.
Occasionally, the court may authorize service by posting or by publication. These are only available if the spouse cannot be found, so this is typically the last resort. Each of these methods of service comes with nuanced rules, such as who can perform the service or whether the respondent spouse must sign anything.
Waiving Service in Divorce Cases
Often in uncontested divorces, the spouses agree that divorce is the logical step, so they want to do everything they can to expedite the entire divorce process. If you and your spouse are in this situation, then the respondent spouse will likely be willing to sign and have notarized a “Waiver of Service” form. The spouse is therefore agreeing to give up their right to receive service of process, eliminating the need for a law enforcement officer or process server to deliver the papers.
Serving Divorce Papers Online
Serving divorce papers online is still not the primary method of service, but courts realize that email and social media notice are a viable alternative to personal service when the spouse cannot be found, which is why now you can serve divorce papers online in Texas in some circumstances.
Also note that only the initial petition and supporting documents need to be personally served by a constable or sheriff. Subsequent documents, like motions and discovery requests, can be served by email, mail, or personal delivery.
There are many online “quick” divorce services that advertise fast online processing. Keep in mind that, even if these programs allow you to fill out your divorce papers online, they still must comply with the rest of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure pertaining to filing and service. These services typically do not file the divorce papers for you, nor do they serve your spouse. If you choose to use an online divorce service, ensure that they are reputable and read the instructions carefully to determine what steps you need to take after using the service. Keep in mind that if something goes wrong in the process, these online services are not a replacement for a qualified attorney.
Discuss Your Case with a Texas Family Lawyer Today
At Varghese Summersett Family Law Group, we handle all aspects of divorce cases, including the initial filing and service, child custody, child support, spousal support, and asset division. We are here for our clients during the most trying times in their lives. Call a trusted Texas family law attorney at (817) 900-3220 to find out whether now you can serve divorce papers online in Texas.