How Do I Get This Divorce Started, Part 2 – Writ of Summons

How Do I Get This Divorce Started, Part 2 – Writ of SummonsA while back, we published a blog about the steps leading up to divorce, and why it can take so long to get started. One of the more time-consuming parts of a divorce can be the “writ of summons.” This blog will go into more detail about writs of summons in Maryland and how they work.

You have likely heard the phrase, “You’ve been served” before. In a legal context this means that paperwork was personally delivered to someone so there is no doubt they received it. Typically, this is a summons for a court hearing, like divorce proceedings.

After filing a divorce complaint with your county clerk, the clerk issues a writ of summons, which your spouse must answer within a specified amount of time. Here in Maryland, you cannot serve this summons on your spouse personally – you must do so through a third party, like via:

  • Certified mail. You can send the divorce papers through certified mail. This requires your postal carrier to deliver the documents personally to your spouse and get their signature as receipt. However, remember that the post office won’t take as much care to look for your spouse as a process server or sheriff’s deputy might. If you do decide to use certified mail, ensure you select “restricted delivery” and “return service” in the event the mail can’t be delivered, so it will be returned back to you as undeliverable. This option has some drawbacks in COVID times, too.
  • Private process. You may also hire a private process server to deliver your papers. You can even use a trusted friend or relative (as long as they are 18 or older). However, they MUST serve the papers face-to-face; it is not enough to just leave them in a mailbox or on a doorstep. Remember, whomever you use to serve to your divorce papers, they should provide you with an affidavit of proof afterward that they performed their job.
  • Sheriff. When filing your divorce papers with the county clerk, you may request the Sheriff’s availability and fees for serving your spouse with the summons. If this is a viable and safe arrangement for you, you can leave your papers for the Sheriff, and they will provide proof to the court that your spouse received the documents.

What if I don’t know where my spouse is? How are they served?

If, after searching, your spouse seems MIA, you can petition the court for a method of alternative service. Maryland offers two methods of alternative service in domestic cases like child custody and divorce:

  • Service by publication. This includes publishing a notice of the divorce in local county newspapers.
  • Service by posting. The sheriff posts a notice of divorce at the courthouse.

You’ll have to show the court that you made a good faith effort to locate your spouse through the traditional methods of service first.

The spouse served with a divorce summons has 30 days to answer. Exceptions to this rule are if the person lives out-of-state (60 days) or out of the United States (90 days).

At McCabe Russell, P.A., our Rockville attorneys work to make your divorce fair, efficient and cost-effective. We advocate for your best interests and help you meet your goals for the future. Call 443-917-3347, or feel free to reach out to us through our contact form. We also maintain offices in Fulton, Columbia, and Bethesda.