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How to Serve Custody Papers


    If you filed a custody case, you must have copies of your court papers served on (given to) your child’s other parent.

    What Papers Do I Have Served?

    The first papers you will have served on your child’s other parent are:

    • The Summons and Complaint (usually just called the “Summons”)

    • Any other papers you filed to begin your custody case

    Warning! The Summons must be served on your child’s other parent within 91 days, or your custody case may be dismissed.

    Can I Be the Server?

    No. There are several ways you can have your initial custody papers served, but you cannot be the one to serve the papers. You can ask a friend or relative to serve the papers, or you can pay your local sheriff’s department, police department, or a process server. Whoever serves the papers must be at least 18 years old and cannot be involved in your case.

    What Does the Server Do?

    The server must do the following things:

    • Personally give your child's other parent a copy of your court papers or mail the papers (see the mailing rules below),

    • Fill out and sign the Proof of Service on the back of one copy of the Summons form, AND

    • File the Proof of Service or return it to you to file.

    What Are the Rules for Mailing?

    The server can mail the papers by registered or certified mail, with service restricted to your child's other parent and a return receipt requested. This type of service only works if the other parent accepts delivery of the papers and if you have a safe address where the return receipt can be mailed.

    To serve the papers by mail, have a friend or relative go to the post office and pay to have the papers mailed to your child’s other parent this way. Once the papers have been delivered, you will get a green card (the return receipt) in the mail. Make sure the other parent signed the green card. Have the person who mailed the papers fill out and sign the Proof of Service form on the back of one copy of the Summons and give it to you. Attach the signed return receipt to the Proof of Service.

    Can My Child’s Other Parent Agree to Accept Service of the Papers?

    Yes. If the other parent agrees to accept service of the papers, the other parent can sign the Acknowledgment of Service section on the back of one copy of the Summons and give it to the server. With this type of service, only the Acknowledgment of Service portion of the Proof of Service needs to be filled out. Make a copy of the form for your records, and file the original with the clerk's office.

    What If I Don’t Know Where My Child’s Other Parent Is?

    If the server has tried to serve the other parent several times without success, you can ask the judge for permission to complete service by regular first-class mail or another way. To do this, file a Motion and Verification for Alternate Service.

    If the judge allows alternate service, the judge will sign an Order for Alternate Service. Then you can follow the judge’s directions for serving the papers.

    If you need to serve your child’s other parent by alternate service, consider hiring a lawyer to help you with your custody case. You can use Find a Lawyer to get contact information for legal services or a lawyer referral service in your area.

    How Do I Serve the Rest of the Papers I File?

    Only the Summons and the other initial custody papers must be served by someone other than you. After the initial service, you can serve other court papers on the other parent. You may serve the rest of the custody papers by:

    • Mailing a copy to the other parent’s last-known address,

    • Handing a copy to the other parent in person, OR

    • Leaving a copy at the other parent’s home with an adult who also lives there.

    Whoever serves the papers must fill out and sign a copy of a Proof of Service saying which papers were served. If you used our online interview to draft your custody papers, several blank Proof of Service forms are included.

    What Do I Do With the Completed Proof of Service?

    Each time you or another server fills out a Proof of Service, file it with the circuit court clerk’s office. Keep a copy of each Proof of Service for your records.