The process of service is an essential step of every marriage dissolution process in the US. Whether you are getting served divorce papers or are serving divorce papers in Washington state, you need to know the legal requirements that have to be followed in each instance, as otherwise, the service process might not be considered complete.
What Does Being Served Mean?
Being served divorce papers means receiving official notification that your spouse filed the marriage dissolution paperwork with the court. The service itself is a legal delivery of the document copies to the respondent.
In Washington state, it cannot be done by a petitioner personally, and according to Washington state process server laws, they may ask another person who is over 18 years to do it. Such a person must hand the paperwork to the other spouse in person. Alternatively, the petitioner can hire a professional process server who will do it for a fee that varies in different counties.
Getting served papers means that you receive copies of the following documents:
- Petition for Dissolution of Divorce. This form includes basic information about all parties to the case and your marriage, as well as details concerning the desired outcomes on child custody and support, asset division, and alimony.
- Summons. It is an official notification about legal actions initiated against you and that the court has jurisdiction over the case. It also includes case information, such as the number, the time frame for the response, etc.
There also can be additional documents, such as restraining orders or Motion for Temporary Family Law Orders depending on the case.
What to Do After Serving the Divorce Papers?
A person who served divorce papers should fill out the Affidavit confirming they served your spouse and file it with the court. When the second party receives the paperwork, they may provide an official answer to the court mentioning whether they agree or disagree with divorce-related decisions included in the Complaint:
- In case the second party has no objections and states so to the court, the couple has to wait 90 days until their case is scheduled. This is a mandatory waiting period in the state which cannot be skipped.
- If there are objections, a divorce will become contested, and the spouses will resolve the issues through mediation or in the courtroom.
- If you served divorce papers withno response, you might be able to proceed in default. Ask the court about your options.
What to Do If You Were Served with Divorce Papers
First of all, if you accept the delivery of the documents, you may sign the Acceptance of Service and hand this document to the person who performed the service. This is an official notice to the petitioner that the service was successful.
As soon as you get acquainted with the documents, you need to fill out a Response to Petition about a Marriage. After that, you need to file it with the court clerk in the county where the marriage dissolution case was initiated and serve the petitioner with a copy.
If you have children, you can file your own proposed parenting plan and child support worksheet together with the response in case you disagree with your spouse’s ideas. When you have a lot of objections and your divorce will clearly be contested, you should consider hiring a lawyer to help you along the way.
Can I Refuse Service?
Yes, you can avoid the process server or refuse to receive the documents. However, it does not prevent your spouse from divorcing you. Having obtained the judge’s official permission, your spouse can serve you in alternative ways, such as by mail or publication. Depending on the situation, the divorce process may continue without your involvement, and your spouse’s requests (for example, concerning child custody) may be granted by the judge.
How Long Do I Have to Respond?
After divorce papers are served, you will have 20 days to give a response. This period may be extended to 60 days if the respondent is not in WA. The time given for an answer is considered enough to get acquainted with the documents and file a Response to the Petition.
When the 20 days to respond to Summons and Petition are over, in case the respondent fails to provide the answer, the petitioner may obtain a default order. In case the response cannot be given on time, the respondent must ask the court for a postponement.
What’s in a Legal Answer to a Divorce Petition?
Having been served with divorce papers, you will also get the Answer to a Divorce Petition to provide a response in. There, you will have to indicate whether you agree to the terms that were included in the Complaint.
The form will cover many of the sections that were included in the Petition, such as those concerning asset division, finances, alimony, custody, child support, and others. You will have to fill in the box with the answers “I agree,” “I disagree,” or “I don’t know.” If you disagree with some options your spouse offered, you will need to list your reasons in the fields below.
There may be cases where some information your spouse provided about you or themselves is incorrect. You may require evidence of various kinds, such as photos, videos, bills, and witness statements to disprove the claims. In such cases, it is best to work with a lawyer to ensure your interests are protected. If everything is accurate and was initially agreed upon, you’re unlikely to require legal assistance.