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How to Serve the Initial Court Papers (Family Law)

Family, Divorce & Children

How to serve the initial court papers in a family law matter (such as a divorce, custody, modification, child's name change, or paternity case).
Overview

Guide Overview

Warning: The information and forms in this guide are not a substitute for the advice and help of a lawyer.

This guide tells you how to serve the initial court papers in a family law matter.  

Common questions about Divorce

Yes. Each person named as a respondent in your petition (the form you file to start your case) must be served with the initial court papers. 

Exception: A respondent does not need to be served with the initial court papers if they will voluntarily fill out and sign: 

  • A Respondent’s Original Answer form or 

  • A Waiver of Service Only (Specific Waiver) form (this form must be signed in front of a notary). 

Each respondent must be served with the initial court papers, which include: 

  • The citation (get this form at the clerk’s office when you file your case), and 
  • A copy of your petition (the form you file to start your case), and 
  • A copy of any other forms you file with your petition. 

No. You must arrange for a constable, sheriff, or private process server to serve the initial court papers. You may need to ask the district clerk to issue the citation so that you can give it to a constable, sheriff, or private process server. 

You can have a constable, sheriff, private process server, or the court clerk serve the respondent using one of these methods. 

  • Personal Service. 

  • Service by Registered or Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested. 

  • Substituted Service by Court Order.  

  • Service by Social Media. 

  • Service by Posting (no kids). 

  • Service by Publication (with kids). 

Getting the respondent served can be complicated. If you have questions, talk to a lawyer.  

This method is best

The constable, sheriff, or private process server will: 

  • deliver the initial court papers to the respondent in person; and 

  • complete a Return of Service form that says when and where the respondent was served; and 

  • file the completed Return of Service with the court or send it to you to file with the court. (The Return of Service is proof the respondent was served.) 

The respondent will not have to sign anything. 

See Texas Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 106(a)(1)

The clerk (or constable) will: 

  • Mail the initial court papers to the respondent by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested; and 

  • If the return receipt (or “green card”) is signed by the respondent and returned to the clerk, the clerk (or constable) will complete a Return of Service form that says when and where the respondent was served, and 

  • File the completed Return of Service with the court or send it to you to file. 

You can ask the judge for permission to serve your spouse another way if the constable, sheriff, or private process server:  

  • Has tried to serve your spouse in person or by registered or certified mail without success; and  

  • Can confirm that your spouse lives, works, or can be found at the location where service was attempted.  

You must file a Motion for Substituted Service and a Rule 106(b) Affidavit from the constable, sheriff, or private process server. If the judge is convinced that your spouse can be found at the location where service was attempted, the judge can sign an Order for Substituted Service that authorizes the constable, sheriff, or private process server to:  

  • leave a copy of the initial divorce papers with anyone over 16 at the location specified in the affidavit or  

  • authorize service in any other manner that will be reasonably effective to give your spouse notice of the divorce.  

See Texas Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 106(b)

It is possible to serve someone through social media. Read Service by Social Media learn more about this method of service.

Substituted service through social media is authorized under Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code 17.033

Check with your court. Look at the court's website to see its local rules and procedures. Talk to a lawyer who practices in your jurisdiction about it. 

If in-person service has not worked, ask your judge if you can have someone served through an alternative method. This is called alternative service. If you can show the judge that the alternative method you’ve come up with will successfully get the other party served, the judge may allow it. The bar is high to prove that social media is the best alternative method because of issues of privacy and ensuring the intended person actually received the notice.  

Social media can also be helpful to build up proof that you know where the other party is located. If you can verify that the social media account is the other party’s account, the judge may use the proof that you have to allow service to a location that is indicated on social media.  

New rules about service by social media took effect on December 31, 2020. 

This method of service is used if you cannot find the respondent (after looking really hard), and there are no children involved. Read Service by Posting (when you can’t find your spouse in a divorce without kids) to learn more. 

This method of service is used if you cannot find the respondent (after looking really hard), and there are children involved. Read Service by Publication (when you can’t find the other parent) to learn more. Citation is issued by both the newspaper and by a statewide public information website

As a general rule, only the initial filing papers (citation, petition, and any other papers you file with the petition) need to be served by a constable, sheriff, private process server, or court clerk. You can serve the rest of the papers yourself. 

Send a copy of any papers you file in the case to each respondent. If a respondent has a lawyer, send a copy to the lawyer instead. You can use any of these delivery methods: 

  • Hand delivery, 

  • Email, 

  • Regular mail or certified mail, return receipt requested

  • Commercial delivery service (for example FedEx), 

  • Fax, or 

  • Electronic service through eFileTexas. (Note: This method is required if you electronically file (E-File) the Petition, and the email address of the respondent or the respondent’s lawyer is on file with the electronic file manager.) 

Exception: If you file an amended petition and the respondent has not filed an answer, you must: 

  • Ask the clerk to reissue the citation and attach a copy of your amended petition, and 

  • Arrange for the respondent to be served by a constable, sheriff, or private process server (with the new citation and amended petition). 

 

Instructions & Forms

Checklist Steps

  • A Respondent’s Original Answer form or 

  • A Waiver of Service Only (Specific Waiver) form (this form must be signed in front of a notary). 

You can skip the rest of the steps if each respondent voluntarily filled out and signed an answer or waiver of service. 

Each respondent must be served with the initial court papers, which include: 

  • The citation (get this form at the clerk’s office when you file your case), and 

  • A copy of your petition (the form you file to start your case), and 

  • A copy of any other forms you file with your petition. 

Select the method of service that best applies to you. 

You can have a constable, sheriff, private process server, or the court clerk serve the respondent using one of these methods. 

  • Personal Service. 

  • Service by Registered or Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested. 

  • Substituted Service by Court Order.  

  • Service by Social Media. 

  • Service by Posting (no kids). 

  • Service by Publication (with kids). 

Getting the respondent served can be complicated. If you have questions, talk to a lawyer.  

Personal Service (This method is best

The constable, sheriff, or private process server will: 

  • deliver the initial court papers to the respondent in person; and 

  • complete a Return of Service form that says when and where the respondent was served; and 

  • file the completed Return of Service with the court or send it to you to file with the court. (The Return of Service is proof the respondent was served.) 

The respondent will not have to sign anything. 

See Texas Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 106(a)(1)

Move on to the next step if this method of service does not fit your circumstances.

Service by Registered or Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested

The clerk (or constable) will: 

  • Mail the initial court papers to the respondent by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested; and 

  • If the return receipt (or “green card”) is signed by the respondent and returned to the clerk, the clerk (or constable) will complete a Return of Service form that says when and where the respondent was served, and 

  • File the completed Return of Service with the court or send it to you to file. 

See Texas Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 106(a)(2)

Warning! You should only use service by registered or certified mail if you know that the respondent will sign for the certified letter. If someone else signs for the letter or the respondent does not sign his or her name exactly as it is written on your petition, you will have to pay another fee and have the respondent served a different way. 

Move on to the next step if this method of service does not fit your circumstances.

Substituted Service by Court Order

You can ask the judge for permission to serve your spouse another way if the constable, sheriff, or private process server:  

  • Has tried to serve your spouse in person or by registered or certified mail without success; and  

  • Can confirm that your spouse lives, works, or can be found at the location where service was attempted.  

You must file a Motion for Substituted Service and a Rule 106(b) Affidavit from the constable, sheriff, or private process server. If the judge is convinced that your spouse can be found at the location where service was attempted, the judge can sign an Order for Substituted Service that authorizes the constable, sheriff, or private process server to:  

  • leave a copy of the initial divorce papers with anyone over 16 at the location specified in the affidavit or  

  • authorize service in any other manner that will be reasonably effective to give your spouse notice of the divorce.  

See Texas Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 106(b)

If the court authorizes substituted service, contact the office of the district clerk to make sure they know that citation should re-issue, and that a constable or process server should serve the respondent this way. The clerk's office may have forms for requesting service. 

Move on to the next step if this method of service does not fit your circumstances.

Service by Social Media

It is possible to serve someone through social media. Read Service by Social Media to learn more about this method of service. See Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code 17.033

Move on to the next step if this method of service does not fit your circumstances.

Service by Posting (no kids)

This method of service is used if you cannot find the respondent (after looking really hard), and there are no children involved. Read Service by Posting (when you can’t find your spouse in a divorce without kids) to learn more. 

Move on to the next step if this method of service does not fit your circumstances.

Service by Publication (with kids). 

This method of service is used if you cannot find the respondent (after looking really hard), and there are children involved. Read Service by Publication (when you can’t find the other parent) to learn more. Citation is issued by both the newspaper and by a statewide public information website

 

Forms Required

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