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3 ways to serve your spouse divorce papers in Massachusetts

On Behalf of | Apr 19, 2024 | Family Law |

After filing the divorce complaint or petition, the next step is for the filing spouse to notify their partner. In Massachusetts, spouses cannot serve divorce documents themselves. This is to avoid potential conflicts and maintain neutrality. Service must be done in other ways.

Methods for service

Notifying the other spouse can be challenging, but the state provides three ways to accomplish this:

  1. In-person service: A sheriff or constable personally delivers the divorce papers to the other spouse. The filing spouse provides them with a copy of the complaint, the summons and other necessary documents. The sheriff or constable then personally delivers these documents to the spouse and returns a completed Proof of Service to the court.
  2. Service by certified mail: If the spouse cannot be located by the sheriff or constable after numerous attempts, the filing spouse can ask the court for its permission to serve the papers by certified mail. This requires the filing spouse to file a Motion for Alternative Service form and request that the court allow service by mail.
  3. Service by publication: Though uncommon, service by publication is another option if the court approves. This method involves publishing a notice in a local newspaper. The spouse typically uses this process as a last resort when authorized persons can’t locate the other spouse despite earnest efforts.

These methods help ensure the spouse receives proper notification about the divorce proceedings. Each addresses different scenarios, from the spouse being available in person to being hard to locate.

Anticipating the spouse’s answer

After the delivery of the divorce documents, the filing spouse must wait for their partner’s response. The spouse files an “answer” document containing their perspective on the divorce complaint and responds to each statement within it. Statements in the divorce complaint are essentially the facts or allegations that the filing spouse is making about the marriage, the grounds for divorce and other related issues such as child custody or property division. The partner can admit, deny or express uncertainty about these statements in their response.

Any disagreement in the “answer” document signifies contentions between the parties. These disagreements could be about various aspects, such as property division, child custody or alimony. In such a scenario, the divorce becomes contested, and the process may become more complex. At this point, a legal professional can provide invaluable assistance, especially in the case of a contested divorce.