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What Is a Divorce Summons?

Leigia Rosales
Updated: May 16, 2024

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.

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Leigia Rosales
By Leigia Rosales
Leigia Rosales is a former attorney turned freelance writer. With a law degree and a background in legal practice, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers. Her ability to understand complex topics and communicate them effectively makes her a valuable asset to any content creation team.
Discussion Comments
By Markerrag — On Apr 17, 2014

@logicfest -- not really. The only thing different about a divorce summons is that it is attached to a complaint for divorce. In the United States, most states use a very similar set of civil procedure rules. Those rules state that anyone who is sued has to be served with a summons and complaint. That only makes sense -- you can't run around suing people without their knowing about it.

The only major exception to this rule is when you are dealing with defendants that can't be found. In those cases, service can be deemed made by publishing a notice in a local newspaper for set amount of time -- if the defendant doesn't respond, then the action can proceed without him.

Again, a divorce case is a civil action that, procedurally, is much like any other. The defendant must know that he or she has been sued, must be given a certain amount of time to file a response to the suit and the court must be assured the defendant was served with a summons and complaint.

By Logicfest — On Apr 16, 2014

Under the typical rules of civil procedure, don't defendants always have to be served with a summons and complaint in any proceeding? Is a divorce summons somehow different?

Leigia Rosales
Leigia Rosales
Leigia Rosales is a former attorney turned freelance writer. With a law degree and a background in legal practice, she...
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