How to Serve Divorce Papers

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If you filed for divorce, you must have copies of your court papers served on (given to) your spouse. To learn more, watch the How to Serve Divorce or Custody Papers video.

What Papers Do I Have Served?

The first papers you will have served on your spouse are:

  • The Summons

  • The Complaint for Divorce

  • Any other papers you filed to begin your divorce

Warning! The Summons must be served on your spouse within 91 days, or your divorce case may be dismissed.

Can I Be the Server?

No. There are several ways you can have your initial divorce 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 a party in your case.

What Does the Server Do?

The server must do the following things:

  • Personally give your spouse a copy of your court papers or mail the papers (see the mailing rules below),

  • Fill out and sign the Proof of Service that is on the second page of the Summons (form MC 01), AND

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

Rules for Mailing

The server can mail the papers by registered or certified mail, with service restricted to your spouse and a return receipt requested. This type of service only works if your spouse 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 spouse this way. Once the papers have been delivered, you should get a green card (the return receipt) in the mail.

Completing the Proof of Service

If the Defendant filled out the "Acknowledgment of Service" section

Your spouse may have filled out the Acknowledgment of Service section at the bottom of the Proof of Service. If they did, the server will not need to fill out the rest of the Proof of Service before it is filed.

If the Defendant did not fill out the "Acknowledgment of Service" section

If the Defendant did not fill out this section, then the server needs to fill out and sign the "Certificate of Service/Nonservice" section. This includes filling out the Defendant's name, and the date, time, and address or place of service. Under the subheading "Attachments (if any)," they should fill out the names of all papers served besides the Summons and the Complaint.

If your spouse was served by mail, be sure to attach the signed return receipt to the Proof of Service when you file it.

What If I Don’t Know Where My Spouse Is?

If the server has tried to serve your spouse several times without success, or if you can't find out your spouse's address after making real efforts, you can ask the judge for permission to complete service 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 spouse by alternate service, consider hiring a lawyer to help you with your divorce. Proper service is absolutely necessary for you to get a divorce. You can use the Guide to Legal Help 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 divorce papers must be served by someone other than you. After service of the initial papers, you can serve other court papers that you file later in the case on your own, instead of finding someone to serve them for you.

You must serve documents filed later in the case electronically if you can and if the other party has access to e-mail. If you or the other party can't do this electronically, or if you are not sure, you can serve by regular mail. If you serve by mail, send the papers to the other party’s last known address.

If you are using MiFILE to file documents electronically, your documents will be served electronically as long as the other party is also using MiFILE. If the other party is not using MiFILE, you will need to serve the documents by e-mail, if possible, or by regular mail if electronic options are not available.

MiFILE is only available for some courts. Even in courts where it is available, you can only use it for some case types. The State Court Administrative Office keeps a chart of courts that use e-filing . To learn more, read What Is E-Filing? .

If you are serving documents by e-mail, keep the following rules in mind:

  • All documents must be in PDF format;

  • The e-mail subject line must include the name of the court, case name, case number, and the title of each document being sent;

  • If you e-mail a document at or before 11:59 p.m., it is considered served on that day. If you send the e-mail on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, it is considered served on the next business day;

  • Do not delete any e-mails you send to the other party, especially e-mails that served court documents. You must keep a record of sent items until a judgment or final order is entered and all appeals have been completed.

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.

What If My Spouse Is in Prison?

If your spouse is in prison, you must still have them served with the divorce papers. Having papers served on an inmate is usually not hard. Call the Department of Corrections to confirm the incarceration and the other party's prison number and location. Then mail a copy of the complaint and other papers you filed to the prison. Also include the Proof of Service so the server can fill it out and send it back to you. Mail the papers by registered or certified mail, with service restricted to your spouse and a return receipt requested. 

A prison employee can serve the papers and send you back the completed Proof of Service form along with the return receipt (this looks like a green card). Most Michigan prisons have a litigation coordinator to help with this process. You can also use the Personal Service on Prisoner and Affidavit form to ask the warden or administrator of the prison to serve the papers.

When you receive the completed Proof of Service from the prison, attach the return receipt before filing it with the court clerk's office.