The first legal step toward ending your marriage is filing and serving divorce papers. These documents notify the court and your spouse that you want to end your marriage.
Filing the paperwork with the court is easy, but serving your spouse can be much harder. Florida has specific rules for serving someone divorce papers, and failing to follow them can delay or halt the rest of the proceedings. Here’s what you need to know about successfully serving your spouse in Florida.
Why You Need to Serve Divorce Papers
Divorce is a unique process in family law. It only requires one person to consent, but it changes two people’s legal rights and responsibilities. Legislators do not want to force a person to remain married if they want to be single, so no-fault divorce is now the norm throughout the US. This allows either spouse to file for divorce for any reason or no reason at all.
However, legislators also understand that getting divorced impacts both spouses equally. As such, while they do not require both people to agree for divorces to go forward, they do require that the filing partner notify the other party about the legal proceedings. This is known as serving them divorce papers. Florida has implemented rules to ensure that non-filing spouses get complete and accurate information before the process can begin.
Methods for Serving Divorce Paperwork in Florida
Florida does not allow spouses to personally serve their partners. Instead, the state requires that these documents be specially delivered to the respondent by a certified process server to ensure they receive accurate information and understand their rights and responsibilities.
There are several ways that this can be accomplished.
Florida law states that the Sheriff of a county is responsible for serving divorce papers and other legal documents to county residents upon request. The Sheriff may also appoint a certified representative to do this for them
You will submit multiple copies of the paperwork to be served to the Sheriff’s office in the county in which your spouse lives and pay a small fee. The Sheriff will then schedule a process server to find your spouse and deliver the papers to them in person. This is often the most cost-effective method of serving your spouse, but it can take more time due to the limited resources of public agencies.
The most common alternative to working with the Sheriff’s office is to hire a private process service agency. These private processors have the same certifications as those who work for the Sheriff. By operating privately, they can offer significantly faster service. Just note that this speed also typically comes at a higher cost.
To hire a private processor, you must research certified service agencies or ask your attorney for recommendations. Once you have found a server that operates in your spouse’s county, you’ll provide them with several copies of the paperwork, they will deliver them to your spouse and then notify the court that your spouse has been served.
If process servers can’t track down your partner, you may need to request constructive service instead. This is permissible when you have done your due diligence to track down the other person but cannot find them because they are hiding or otherwise off the grid.
To perform constructive service, you will publish a notice of your action in a weekly periodical or newspaper that serves your spouse’s last known address. You must publish this notice four weeks in a row. After this period, you can provide the court with proof of constructive service, and you will be allowed to continue with your divorce as if your spouse had been served in person.
Consult Expert Florida Divorce Attorneys Before Serving Your Spouse
Serving someone divorce papers is more complicated than you might expect. If you fail to serve your partner correctly, your divorce could be delayed for weeks or months. That’s why consulting with an experienced attorney like Harrison Bergman is crucial before getting started. At Bergman Family Law, we understand how confusing and stressful getting divorced can be. We can guide you through each step of the process, from serving your spouse to finalizing your settlement. Learn more about how we can lift some of the burdens of divorce by scheduling your consultation today.