To initiate a divorce, you must file a complaint for dissolution of marriage.  The complaint is a legal document filed with the Clerk of the District Court. It sets forth facts and asks the judge to make certain orders. To proceed with your case, you need to notify your spouse that the complaint was filed.

This notice is called “service” or “service of process.” There are 3 ways to give your spouse official notice that the complaint has been filed:

  • Voluntary Appearance
  • Service by Sheriff
  • Alternative Method of Service (Service by Publication)

Voluntary Appearance

A voluntary appearance is a document signed by your spouse to accept service (i.e., to acknowledge they have received a copy of the complaint for dissolution of marriage).  You can give your spouse a copy of the complaint and the voluntary appearance in person or your attorney can mail a copy of the documents to your spouse.  Your spouse must sign the voluntary appearance and it must be filed with the Clerk.

If your spouse refuses to sign the voluntary appearance, you can have him or her served by the sheriff.

Service by Sheriff

If you need to have your spouse served by the sheriff, your attorney will file a praecipe for summons with the clerk.  This is a request for the clerk to issue a summons to be personally delivered to your spouse by the sheriff.  You can have your spouse served in the county where he or she works or lives.  You will be charged a fee by the sheriff for attempts to serve your spouse.

Alternative Method of Service/Service by Publication

If you do not know where your spouse lives or work (or if they refuse to sign a voluntary appearance and the sheriff can’t serve them), you can ask the court for permission to serve your spouse by another method, including service by publication.  This means that notice is provided in a newspaper circulated in the county in which you filed the complaint.

You need the court’s permission to serve your spouse by publication.  You’ll need to prove that you made every reasonable efforts to find out where your spouse is living or working and have attempted to have the sheriff serve them at these locations.

If the court approves you serving your spouse by publication, a notice will be published in a local newspaper for 3 consecutive weeks.

However, if you serve your spouse by publication, although the court will be able to give you a divorce, it may not be able to grant you other relief, such as dividing property, awarding child support or alimony, or determining custody or parenting time.

You must serve your spouse (or file a voluntary appearance) within 6 months after the complaint has been filed.  Otherwise, the clerk will automatically dismiss your case and you will need to re-file the complaint.

Angela Lennon