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How to Serve Divorce Papers in California

How to Serve Divorce Papers in California?

Filing for a divorce is a challenging task that involves considering key details and legal requirements. Knowing how to serve divorce papers in California is a crucial aspect of this process, shaping the foundation of the legal proceedings in this area.

In this guide, we will get into the importance of serving the papers correctly, highlighting the legal requirements specific to the Golden State.

How to Serve Divorce Papers in California

Before wondering what are the legal requirements for serving divorce papers in California and filing for a divorce, it helps to get familiar with the process. Hiring a family law firm legal professional could be your safest bet as it can help you navigate divorce successfully and make informed decisions.

Serve Divorce Papers in California
Source: / Photo Contributor: Pheelings media

Before you Start

According to California law, the petitioning spouse cannot serve divorce papers to the responding spouse. As a petitioner, you must get a third party, also called a process server, over 18. They may be:

  • An individual you know
  • The county sheriff or marshal
  • A professional registered process server 

The Divorce Papers to be Served (at minimum)

What type of divorce papers will you need to serve the spouse to dissolve the marriage? The answer can be somewhat complicated.


To start the divorce process, you must complete a form called Petition for Dissolution. In the form, you need to provide basic information about yourself and your spouse, including residency information and marriage date. The petition outlines the grounds for divorce. 

You must declare what type of divorce you seek and the reason behind your decision to dissolve the marriage. Additionally, you must provide your general states on crucial matters like child custody, spousal support, and property division. 


The Summons is a notice for your spouse that you have filed for a divorce. Once you summon the other party, it means the other party needs to respond to your paperwork in a tight timeframe of 30 days.

Once your spouse gets served with the petition and the summons, they cannot do anything outlined in Standard Family Law Restraining Orders without an order of court or a written agreement.


If you have children under 18 years old, this is a mandatory divorce form to fill out.

You’ll need to fill out your children’s birth information, whether they’ve been involved in court cases, and other information relevant to residency of the minor children of the parties.


Although there will be plenty of time to discuss the separation of assets, the earlier you start – the better.

The form includes income, expenses, assets, and debts. Standard forms for discussing property include the Property Declaration and Income and Expense Declaration

There are other forms that are required by local County rules specific to the jurisdiction you are filing in.

How Long Do You Have to Serve Divorce Papers in California 

The timeframe for serving divorce papers in California varies depending on the unique circumstances of each case. Generally, the Petitioner must serve the papers to the Respondent within 60 days of filing the initial petition. 

Once the process server delivers the paperwork, your spouse must fill out the Response form within the specific time frame of 30 days.

Methods of Serving Divorce Papers in California

Another common interest among individuals seeking divorce is the possible methods of serving divorce papers.

Personal Service of Divorce Papers

The third-party must serve the paperwork in the appropriate amount of time, fill out a proof of service form, and return it to you or your lawyer, or file it with the court. This form tells the court who was served, when, where, and how the service happened.

Substituted Service

When personal service is challenging, substituted service becomes an alternative method. You can only use this service when the process server has made several attempts to serve the other party, and each of them failed. The service involves leaving the papers with someone else at the spouse’s house or workplace followed by certified mailing.

Service by Mail with Acknowledgment of Receipt

One question that often strikes our clients is, can you serve divorce papers by mail in California? You can, but only via registered or certified mail, and the spouse or the respondent needs to sign a form, a receipt, declaring that they got the papers then they will need to mail the form back to you or your attorney.

Service by Mail with Acknowledgment of Receipt
Source: / Photo Contributor: Valery Evlakhov

Service by Publication

When locating the spouse proves exceptionally challenging, the court may order service by publication. This involves publishing the Summons and Petitioner in a newspaper the other party will likely read. This method is applicable when the other party’s whereabouts are unknown and other methods have been unsuccessful.

Consequences of Improper Service of Divorce Papers

A proper service is crucial for smooth and valid divorce proceedings. Otherwise, a failure to comply with the correct methods may lead to complications and legal challenges. It can significantly impact the divorce timeline, potentially causing delays and additional legal hurdles. If mistakes occur, it is vital to respond to them promptly. 


Understanding how to serve divorce papers in California is essential for a legally sound divorce process. There are several ways of serving the papers, but in any case, a third party is involved. Remember to seek legal guidance as family law and the divorce process are complex, and a family lawyer will help you comply with the law, and make sure the divorce papers are served properly.

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