Service – What Does that mean in a Divorce Case?

In the legal profession, service is a word of art. In other words, it has a special meaning in the context of the legal field. Divorces are legal cases that must be heard in court.

Because divorces are legal cases, the principles and rules of court apply. One of the fundamental concepts is “due process of law.” This is such an important principle it is set out in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. One of the definitions of due process of law means notice to an individual or entity that there are legal proceedings pending against them. All this means is that whenever a person is sued or accused of a crime they must be given notice of the suit or charges against them. This is one of our most important rights and it cannot be ignored.

Traditionally notice was given in civil cases by having the sheriff personally handing a copy of the lawsuit to the person being sued. Then the sheriff would sign an affidavit saying that he completed the task. The executed affidavit was then filed in the papers of the case so that the judge could see that both parties are before the court because everyone had received notice of the lawsuit. The process of personally giving the paperwork to the party in the case is called “serving” the party. Hence, service is the act of serving paperwork on a party to a lawsuit. The duty of the sheriff to do this task has been expanded to allow private companies to do this work. They are known as service companies.

Service raises a couple of issues. There is the factor that people are disrupted and sometimes embarrassed by having papers given to them at work or even at home at inappropriate times. Therefore, in divorce cases, this traditional method of service can cause uneasiness from the beginning of the case. Another issue is financial. Service adds fees and expenses to the case. The Sheriff or a service company must be hired to perform the act.

To help address these two concerns the legislature enacted laws allowing the party to be served to voluntarily execute an affidavit stating that they received the paperwork and waiving the requirement of being personally notified. This form avoids service fees and expenses and avoids the uncomfortableness of being handed legal paperwork.

The information in this article is not legal advice. Please contact a family law attorney for advice on your particular situation.

If you would like further information or help in these matters, please contact a family law attorney, Louis David Levinson, divorce lawyer in San Antonio and Seattle. I can be reached at (210) 829-5033, or (206) 660-7160 or email me at or

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