The purpose of the divorce summons is to assure the court where the divorce was filed that the respondent is aware that a divorce action has been commenced by the plaintiff. A divorce summons is a document that generally states the names of the parties to the case, the court where the case was filed, a brief description of the type of case filed, and instructions for the respondent on how long he or she has to respond or when he or she must appear for court. In essence, it serves to "summon" the recipient to court.
The process for obtaining a divorce may differ significantly from one country to another. Within the United States, there will be differences among the states, but the basic process remains the same. The spouse that files for the divorce is known as the plaintiff and the other spouse the respondent. In order to initiate the divorce process, the plaintiff must file a complaint or petition for divorce. The complaint or petition must then be served, along with a summons, on the respondent.
A divorce summons must be officially served on the respondent in order for the divorce action to proceed. Jurisdictions will differ with regard to what types of service of process are considered acceptable. Personal service, as the name implies, is accomplished when the summons and complaint are personally handed to the respondent. Personal service may be completed by anyone over the age of 18 or by a licensed process server depending on the jurisdiction. Another popular method of service is by civil sheriff. Certified mail with the return receipt signed by the respondent may also be acceptable for service of the summons.
In situations where the plaintiff does not know the whereabouts of the respondent, a court may allow service by publication. For instance, this service may be allowed if the respondent abandoned the plaintiff or moved out of the country and the plaintiff has no information regarding his or her location. Most courts require the plaintiff to make reasonable efforts to locate the respondent before allowing service by publication. This is accomplished by publishing the divorce summons in a local newspaper in the area where the respondent was last known to reside at least three times over the course of a month.
As a rule, once the respondent receives the divorce summons, he or she will only have a limited amount of time to respond. The response must be in the form of an answer in writing filed with the court. If the respondent fails to answer the summons, then a default judgment for divorce may be entered against him or her.