Do I have to serve my husband or wife in my Chicago, Divorce?

We’ve all seen the movies where a stranger nonchalantly hands a character some documents and quietly says, “You’ve been served.”  The character then looks at the papers with surprise and is completely devastated.  Because of scenes like this we dread the idea of serving someone or being served.  In reality, service is just handing a paper over to someone and then filing an affidavit that you did so.

The whole procedure is formally called “service of process.”  It’s the act of giving the initial complaint to the other party so they are officially on notice regarding the law suit and know how many days they have to respond. It works the same in a divorce case as any other civil litigation case.

I don’t want to serve anyone.  I know my clients don’t want to serve anyone.  I know the opposing parties don’t want to be served.  All the opposing party needs to do is file their own appearance with the court and no service is necessary.

My personal policy is to file the divorce and then send the respondent a letter or email advising them of the filing and giving them two weeks to file their own appearance or hire a lawyer who will file the appearance for them.  Typically, I will also prepare some or all of the final documents along with this notice so as to ease the anxiety for the other party in hopes of securing their cooperation.   If the two weeks pass, I file a motion to appoint a special process server and deliver that notice to the respondent.  The respondent is usually served the next day before the respondent even has a chance to finally get their appearance on file.

But, when the service of process is necessary, we have to follow the formal rules.
Illinois law requires that service be by a sheriff. 735 ILCS 5/2-202(a).  But, then, just a few paragraphs later in the same law it says, “It is not necessary that service be made by a sheriff”
99% of divorce lawyers who practice in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois use private process servers.  The statute requires us to motion the court to appoint the private process server. “The court may, in its discretion upon motion, order service to be made by a private person over 18 years of age and not a party to the action.” 735 ILCS 5/2-202(a).  This is an extra moment in court but lawyers like me are in court every day anyways.

The advantage of a private process server over the sheriff is two-fold:

  • The private process server does not announce themselves by driving a sheriff’s truck and wearing a sheriff’s uniform. For example, my process server is a middle-aged woman.  She walks in anywhere and people just assume she belongs there.
  • Private process servers also don’t give up. The Cook County Sheriff goes to the respondent’s residence or work three times and if service isn’t achieved they simply report “returned not served.”  A private process server will keep trying until they have served the respondent. A private process server will go to multiple locations while the Sheriff will not.

Private process servers also typically charge the same amount that the Sheriff does for service: $ 75.

You aren’t even required to serve the person directly and personally.  “[S]ervice of summons upon an individual defendant shall be made (1) by leaving a copy of the summons with the defendant personally, (2) by leaving a copy at the defendant’s usual place of abode, with some person of the family or a person residing there, of the age of 13 years or upwards” 735 ILCS 5/2-203(a). The respondent cannot simply run away and not accept service.  Laying the service documents at the respondent’s feet has always been viewed by the courts as sufficient.

If the respondent alleges that the service was insufficient, the respondent must file an appearance to contest the service of process…which automatically gives the respondent notice.

After service the respondent has 30 days to file their appearance or they can be defaulted.  A default divorce means the court will award you anything you asked for (within reason) in your original petition.

Contact my Chicago, Illinois law firm to schedule a free consultation and learn whether you have to serve your husband or wife in your pending divorce.