I’ve filed my family law petition – how do I serve it on the other party?

Marie White

Written by

Family Law Attorney - Burien, WA

Contributor Level 8

Posted almost 5 years ago. Applies to Washington, 2 helpful votes



Personal service.

Personal service means someone over age 18 (not you) handing the papers to the other party personally or leaving them at the house of his or her usual abode with some person of suitable age and discretion then resident therein. The papers cannot be dropped on the doorstep or stuffed in the mailbox. You can have anyone, including a professional process server, do this. If you have a nonprofessional do this, you must have him or her complete a Return of Service, which you will file with the court. Professional process servers have their own forms, which they will fill out and send to you after the job is done.


Service by mail - when allowed.

When you cannot with reasonable diligence serve the respondent personally, you may serve by mail, but only if the person's usual mailing address is a physical address. You must file a motion to serve by mail. If the court grants your motion, serving by mail a three-step procedure, which you must have someone over age 18 do for you. You cannot do this yourself.


Service by mail - procedure to serve.

Have your process server leave a copy at the other party's usual mailing address with a person of suitable age and discretion who is a resident, proprietor, or agent thereof. "Usual mailing address" does not include a post office box or the other party's place of employment. Have your process server mail another copy by first-class mail, postage prepaid, to the other party at his or her usual mailing address. Service is deemed complete on the tenth day after the required mailing.


Service by mail - procedure to prove you accomplished service.

Have your process server complete the Return of Service. Professionals have their own in-house return of service forms. Your server will fill it out and mail it to you when the job is done. If you have a nonprofessional serve the other party or put the second copy in the mail, have him or her complete a Return of Service form. List on this form the documents that this person left at the other party's mailing address and put in the mail to the other party. Fill in the date, time, and address that this person dropped off and mailed the documents, then have him or her sign and date the Return of Service. File it with the court.


Service by publication - when allowed.

If you cannot find the other party within the state, you may file a motion with the court requesting permission to serve by publication. Service by publication does not give the court personal jurisdiction over the other party unless you can prove that he or she is hiding either in or out of Washington to avoid being served or to avoid paying debts.


Service by publication - procedure to serve & prove you accomplished service.

If the court grants your motion, you must publish the summons in a newspaper of general circulation in the county where the action is brought once a week for six consecutive weeks. Most local newspapers are "newspapers of general circulation." Choose one and call to find out if it accepts legal notices. If so, you can publish your summons there. The cost of publication will likely be $125 or more, depending on the newspaper you choose. When the publication has occurred, the newspaper will mail you a Proof of Publication to file with the court.

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