Divorce Papers: How to Serve Your Spouse Most Effectively

September 1, 2022 | J. Benjamin Stevens | Share:

If you are considering divorce, one of the most important steps to give some careful thought to how to best handle is how to serve your spouse with your divorce papers. There’s been a lot of news lately about how actor Jason Sudeikis served his former fiancée, actress Olivia Wilde, with child custody case papers. Let’s just say the method that his attorney or his process servers chose on his behalf was less than ideal and could possibly have long-lasting implications on how the court judges him going forward.

Choosing how to serve someone with legal papers that will surely be emotionally upsetting can be a tricky process, but if done correctly, it can be a relatively smooth process for all involved. In this article, we will walk you through the best ways to serve your spouse with divorce papers. We will also discuss what not to do during this process and provide tips on how to make the process as stress-free as possible for both parties involved.


What Happens Before You Serve Your Spouse Divorce Papers

 If you are considering divorce, it is important to understand the process and what will happen before you serve your spouse divorce papers. The very first step is to consult with an attorney who specializes in divorce law in your state. They can help advise you on your specific situation and what to expect throughout the divorce process. Once you have decided to proceed with a divorce, your attorney will draft the necessary paperwork after working with you to get a full understanding of the marriage, the breakdown of the marriage, and what issues will need to be decided by the Family Court. Once the paperwork is drafted, your attorney will take care of having it filed with the proper clerk of court.


Discuss Your Spouse’s Typical Weekly Schedule with Your Attorney

 The next step is to serve your spouse with divorce papers. This can be done in a number of ways, but the most common method is through a process server. A process server is someone who delivers legal documents to a defendant or respondent in a civil case. In most cases, you will need to hire a professional process server to serve your divorce papers, as they are trained in the proper way to serve legal documents and provide the required documentation proving the documents were given to the right person in the appropriate manner under the rules in your jurisdiction. A process server will also know what to do if there is any resistance to accepting the documents.

Before you hire a process server, it is important to discuss your spouse’s typical weekly schedule with your attorney. This will help the process server know when and where to serve your spouse with divorce papers. It is also important to note that process servers typically charge by the attempt, so you will want to have a good idea of your spouse’s schedule and the place or places that will offer the best chance of a successful first attempt before hiring one.


What to Avoid When Serving Divorce Papers

Once you have a process server lined up, there are a few things you will want to avoid when serving divorce papers. First, do not try to serve your spouse yourself. While this is often portrayed in the movies, serving someone yourself is often not allowed under the rules of most jurisdictions (including South Carolina) since you are an opposing party to the person being served. Even if it might be allowed under the rules, it could also be considered harassment and could negatively impact how the divorce proceedings play out. Second, do not try to have a friend or family member serve the divorce papers for you, as they could also be considered an interested party, and their service could be challenged, not to mention the emotional bridges that could be burned by doing this.

Finally, do not try to serve your spouse while they are in a place that could cause embarrassment, have a negative effect on their career, or while they are in any place where your children would be witnesses to the service process. While the divorce process can be an emotional time for both spouses, it is important to remember that there are still rules of etiquette and common decency that should be followed. This last rule is the one that was apparently overlooked by the Sudeikis team when they had Ms. Wilde served while she was on stage making a presentation for her job. Not only did that result in a media circus surrounding the events, but it has also led to an internet history of the incident that, unfortunately, their children will be forever exposed to, causing them to aware of a situation that children should never have to face with their parents.


The Best Places to Serve Someone

While each couple’s situation can vary widely, it’s been my experience that the best way to serve an unsuspecting spouse is to do it at home when you know they will be alone or with another supportive adult friend or family member. This avoids a public spectacle and will typically avoid any possibility of your children seeing this process take place or their parent’s reaction to reading the documents.

If you are completely out of the loop on your spouse’s schedule because you have already separated or your spouse is acting out-of-sorts lately, you may have to resort to having a process server wait for them in a place you know they will be every day, such as the parking lot at their workplace or their gym. Even in these situations, I typically direct a process server to use good judgment and try not to approach the subject until they are alone or at least out of earshot of any other witnesses.


Final Thoughts

 By following these simple tips, you can ensure that your divorce papers are served effectively and with as little stress on you, your spouse, and your children as possible. If you are considering divorce as a way out of your broken marriage, speak with an experienced family law attorney first to understand what planning is necessary before you start the process. Your attorney will help you understand the rules for service in your state and walk you through the entire process so that it is as smooth and stress-free as possible. Don’t try to go it alone – let us help you get started on the path to a new beginning.


If you and your spouse are no longer happy in your marriage and one of you files for divorce, serving the divorce papers must happen according to your state’s rules of court procedure. If you fail to do it properly, you could delay the Court’s ability to take action in your case. If you’re in South Carolina, you can reach out to Ben Stevens today to discuss your specific situation. He is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and he is a Board-Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. If you or someone you know is facing a child custody or visitation case, contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to request a consultation.


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Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.



Ben.Stevens@offitkurman.com | 864.598.9172

Aggressive, creative, and compassionate are words Ben Stevens' colleagues freely use to describe him as a divorce and family law attorney. Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and is a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is one of only two attorneys in South Carolina with those simultaneous distinctions. He has held numerous leadership positions in the AAML, and he currently serves as one of its National Vice Presidents. Mr. Stevens has a statewide practice and regularly appears all across South Carolina.  His practice is focused on complex divorce and child custody cases.

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