For every family law matter that you might want to start – adoption, divorce, modification, etc. – the party you are filing against is entitled to notice that you have started a court action and they are now required to participate. Notice typically means providing the other party with copies of everything that you filed. There are different types of service allowed under the law, which I will go into below:

Personal Service

What is personal service?

Personal service is outlined in Washington State CR 4. Essentially, when you start a new matter (for this blog’s purposes a family law one) you are required to first attempt personal service. Personal service means someone (other than you) at least 18 years old personally handing copies of all pleadings filed to the other party or someone living with the other party. 

What to say when serving papers?

The steps for completing personal service are simple, but it can be stressful for the person serving when they don’t know the other party or how they will react. If a friend, colleague, family member, or other non-professional is serving on your behalf, you need to have them confirm a few things before handing the paperwork to the person if they don’t recognize the other party needing to be served. First, the server should confirm that the person they are engaging with is the other party needing to be served. This is as simple as asking if they are (first name, last name). If the person says yes, then the server hands them the paperwork and walks away. If they refuse to take the paperwork from the server, the server can drop the paperwork on the ground in front of the person and mention that the person has been served. If the person says no and the server is at the supposed residence of the other party to be served, the server then needs to ask if the other party to be served lives there. If the person says no, then the server walks away. If the person says yes, ask the person if they live there. If the person lives there and appears to be of suitable age (over 18 years old would be ideal) and sound mind, the server can hand them the paperwork and walk away. Again, if they refuse to take the paperwork from the server, the server can drop the paperwork on the ground in front of the person. The server should not engage with the person anymore than what is outlined above. If things start to get out of hand, the server should leave as soon as possible or call the appropriate authorities.

Who else can perform personal service for you?

If you don’t know anyone willing to do this for you, the Sheriff’s Office can do it for a fee, as well as professional process servers. Personal service is required for all new matters, although there are limited exceptions outlined below. Once service is completed, the person that served the other party is required to fill out a Proof of Personal Service and file it at the Clerk’s Office. The Court is limited on what it can do without personal service happening, and a Proof of Service being filed. If no response is filed by the required deadline, you can move forward with your matter.

How can I find the other party for personal service?

The easiest way to serve someone is if you have the other party’s home address. You can also have them served where they work, or where you know they tend to go. If you don’t have any information on where the other party is, you can try to reach out to them via phone or social media and suggest a place to meet up (the server can then meet them). If they don’t respond or you don’t feel comfortable doing that, you could pay a private investigator to do a skiptrace using the phone number you have for the other party. A skiptrace will likely provide you with an address to try service at. If you have no contact information or way to contact the other party at all, you can try reaching out to any family members or friends of the person that might be able and willing to give you either an address or phone number. If that isn’t an option either, you will likely need to try serving by publication, which is discussed more below.

What happens if someone is avoiding being served?

It sometimes happens where the other party knows they are about to be served and will try to avoid it. The other party may refuse to answer their front door or drive away when they see someone they suspect is about to serve them. The Court does not take kindly to people avoiding service, as it usually delays the court process and wastes court resources. If you suspect the other party is avoiding being served, you need to have the server document what happened the times personal service was attempted, and you need to inform the Court. If the Court agrees that the other party is avoiding service and you can show that service has been attempted a handful of times with no success, you may be about to ask the Court to serve by mail, which is discussed more below.

How many times will a process server try to serve you?

If a friend, colleague, family member, or other non-professional is serving on your behalf, they can attempt service as many times as you would like them to or that they are comfortable doing. The Sheriff’s Office will likely try serving everyday over a period of a couple weeks before checking back in with you and seeing what you would like to do moving forward. Most professional process servers attempt service three times before checking back in with you and likely charging an additional fee for more attempts.  

What to do when the other party claims they have never been served?

It sometimes happens where the other party is served, but then later denies ever being served. This is why filing the Proof of Personal Service is so important. If the Court sees that a Proof of Personal Service has been filed, they are less likely to believe that the other party hasn’t been served, especially if the Sheriff’s Office or a professional process server is the one who served the other party. That being said, if you and the other party are at a hearing, the Court will likely provide the other party with additional time to respond and direct you to either serve them again, or direct the other party to purchase copies of the pleadings from the Clerk’s Office. 

Motion to Serve by Mail

When is Serve by Mail appropriate?

If you have attempted personal service and the other party is evading service or you are having extreme difficulty personally serving them, you have the option of asking the Court if you can serve by mail. 

How to start a Motion to allow Service by Mail and Notice of Hearing?

In order to get permission to do so, you must file a Motion to Allow Service by Mail and Notice of Hearing. In the Motion you must outline why personal service isn’t possible, including how many times personal service was attempted and what contact was made with the party if any. Again, personal service is required for new matters, so you must have very clear reasons and evidence for why you should be granted an exception. If the Court grants your request at the hearing, the Court will sign an Order to Allow Service by Mail. Once service is completed (i.e. the pleadings are placed in the mail), the person who mailed the packet is required to fill out a Proof of Mailing or Hand Delivery and file it at the Clerk’s Office. If no response is filed by the required deadline, you can move forward with your matter.

Can you serve legal pleadings by email?

You might think that serving the pleadings by email would be the easiest solution, but that is currently not allowed by the Court unless there is express permission from the other party.  

Motion to Serve by Publication

How to get permission from the Court to serve by publication?

If you simply have no idea where the party is and no way to contact them, you have the option of asking the Court if you can serve by publication. In order to get permission to do so, you must file a Motion to Allow Service by Publication and Notice of Hearing. In the Motion you must outline why personal service isn’t possible, including how you attempted to find the party and what contact was made with the party if any. Again, personal service is required for new matters, so you must have very clear reasons and evidence for why you should be granted an exception. 

What happens after the Court grants your request?

If the Court grants your request at the hearing, the Court will sign an Order to Allow Service by Publication. You will then need to fill out a Summons Served by Publication and provide it a court approved publication. 

Approved publications in Clark County:

There are only a few court approved publications that you can use to serve by publication in Clark County. They can be found here.

Cost of Serve by Publication:

Depending on the type of family law matter you are filing, you may have to have the Summons run for four to six weeks in the publication. This is not a free service, so I recommend requesting quotes from a couple of the approved publications before choosing one. The cost will likely range from $300.00 to $800.00, so be prepared. Once the necessary time period is complete, the newspaper will then mail you the information necessary to file the Proof of Publication. If no response is filed by the required deadline, you can move forward with your matter. 

Final Thoughts

If at all possible, personal service needs to happen when serving the pleadings of a new family law matter. If it isn’t possible for whatever reason, make sure you have collected as much evidence as you can before moving forward with either the Motion to Allow Service by Mail or Motion to Allow Service by Publication. The goal for the Court is to always provide the responding party with the notice necessary for them to participate in the action. Mail isn’t always the best option to make sure that happens, and the Court doesn’t like to allow service by publication if it can be avoided since it isn’t likely to provide actual notice to the party needing to respond. If you have questions about service or how long the responding party has to respond before you can move forward without them, don’t hesitate to reach out to Navigate Law Group for an experienced attorney to assist you. 

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Chelsie M. Elliott

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Amber M. Rushbanks (Rush)

Attorney/Co-Owner

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Anna K. Russo

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Disclaimer

Every legal issue is very unique. Accordingly, the information in this blog is intended as general education material and not as legal advice. If you think you may have a legal issue you should consult an attorney.