All You Need To Know About Serving Divorce Papers in Missouri


Are you planning to file for divorce? The Carson Law Firm can offer information and guidance about serving divorce papers in Missouri. Give us a call today.

How Divorce Papers Are Served in a Missouri Divorce

If you have filed or are about to file for divorce in Missouri, there is something you must know: your (soon-to-be-ex) spouse must be notified and served with the divorce papers after you have filed them. This step is fundamental, and your case cannot progress otherwise. 

But you can’t just mail them the divorce documents or drop them off on their doorstep. The papers must be delivered to them through a formal court procedure known as service.

Service in Missouri courts is governed by strict rules that prescribe specific methods to be applied when serving divorce papers and other court documents. Failing to comply with the rules on service is one of the Mistakes You Should Avoid During Divorce, as it could adversely affect your ability to obtain a Divorce Decree in Missouri. Therefore, you need to understand the rules so you can do things correctly. 

Below, we explain the modes of serving divorce papers in Missouri and other aspects of the rules on service to keep you informed as you prepare for your case. Keep reading to learn more.

Who Can Serve Divorce Papers in Missouri?

Service of divorce paperwork in Missouri is a crucial component of the St. Louis County Divorce Court Procedure and other courts in the state. It is executed by the sheriff of the county where the case is held or a private process server (an individual specially appointed by the court).

Process servers must be independent of the lawsuit under Missouri law. Since you are a party to the suit, you cannot serve as a process server, which means you cannot directly serve your spouse the divorce papers, even if you know where they live or how to contact them.

Even if they accept the legal documents from you, such service may not hold up before the judge and could affect the progress of your case. But there’s an exception to this rule, which we shall examine subsequently.

Modes of Service Under Missouri Law

Personal Service

Personal service is the delivery of the divorce petition directly to the respondent (your spouse). The document is served with a notice known as a summons, which lets them know where the case has been filed and what they must do after receiving the documents.

Under the rules, court papers are deemed to have been personally served if they were;

  • Handed to the respondent directly

  • Left with an individual who is at least 18 years old and who lives at the respondent’s (usual) place of residence

  • Delivered to an agent authorized by the respondent for that purpose.

Note that the procedure for personal service explained here only applies if the respondent lives in Missouri. The procedure varies slightly if the respondent lives outside the state.

You can ask a skilled family law attorney for help understanding the procedure for personal service if your spouse lives outside the state.

Substituted Service

If personal service fails or is difficult to achieve, the divorce papers may be served by substituted means, such as publishing a notice about the divorce petition in a newspaper. But you may need to seek the court’s permission before proceeding with this method.

This mode of service can have far-reaching effects on your case, so it is important that you consult a Divorce Lawyer before you proceed. They can explain the pros and cons to help you make an informed choice.

Entry of Appearance and Waiver of Service

Your spouse may also accept the divorce petition from you directly. But for this mode of service to be recognized in court, they must acknowledge the service in writing and sign a document, “Entry of Appearance and Waiver of Service,” before a notary public.

This document establishes that they’re aware of your divorce petition and waive their right to service through the official channels. You’ll need to file the signed document in court as proof.

This service method is an exception to the rule that service must be done by the sheriff or process server and not a party to the suit. It is common in uncontested divorces because it depends on the other spouse’s willingness, Hence, it is ideal if you both maintain a good relationship.

Once the divorce petition has been served, all other documents that require service during the divorce process can be served on either party or their attorneys by e-mail, fax, or personal service.

What Happens After the Divorce Papers Have Been Served?

When the respondent receives the divorce petition, they have 30 days to file their response formally called “Answer” in court. If they fail to file their answer within the stipulated time, the court may deliver a default judgment in their absence. The judgment in such cases would likely go against them since they did not utilize their chance to defend themselves or tell their side of the story.

If the respondent files their answer and agrees with the petitioner that the marriage has broken down irretrievably and other material issues, the case becomes an uncontested divorce. In such instances, the family court judge can proceed to dissolve the marriage. But if the divorce is contested, the judge would schedule a date for a further hearing where each party would have the opportunity to prove their case before reaching a decision.

Legal representation is invaluable in such contested divorce cases where the material facts are in dispute. An experienced divorce attorney understands how the law works and can help you prepare a solid case that could lead to your desired outcome.

From preparing and filing the petition to ensuring the papers are served and representing you in court, your lawyer can support you throughout your case, leaving you free to focus on getting your life back together after the divorce.

Contact The Carson Law Firm for Help With Your Divorce Case

The divorce process in Missouri is complex and surrounded by rules at all stages, which may be difficult to navigate. Failure to comply with the rules, especially when it comes to serving divorce papers, could delay or adversely affect your case.

To avoid such issues, you can reach out to us at The Carson Law Firm to help you understand the rules governing your case and your rights and obligations under those rules.

We understand the struggles and challenges of the Petitioner vs. Respondent in Divorce, especially when issues of child support, child custody, or maintenance need to be resolved. That is why we are committed to helping those going through divorce navigate the legal system using our extensive family law experience.

So, if you have questions about your divorce or any family law issue, do not hesitate to give us a call, no matter how difficult you think your case seems. Let us help as you work to finalize this phase of your life and move forward with your future.

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