What Can You Do When Your Spouse Refuses a Divorce Summons in Washington?

by Beverly Bird

No state allows a spouse to block the divorce process by refusing to accept service of the summons and petition. However, that doesn’t stop some spouses from trying. Like all other jurisdictions, Washington allows a petitioner to use alternate means of service when her spouse tries to dodge acceptance of her divorce papers. Service must be achieved so the court has legal jurisdiction over both spouses, but Washington offers several ways to accomplish this.

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Washington Service Requirements

Washington’s rules for service of a divorce summons and petition are relatively lenient. The state’s code permits “abode service,” which means that the documents must only be delivered to a mentally competent adult at the spouse’s home; no one has to hand-deliver them to him personally. This rule does not apply to the spouse’s workplace, and the person delivering the papers may not be the spouse who filed for divorce; it has to be a third party.

Friends and Family Members

The critical factor in achieving service in Washington is that someone at your spouse’s residence must open the door. If his doorbell rings and he looks through the door’s peephole to see the sheriff there, he might figure out that the officer is trying to deliver a divorce summons, so he might not open the door. However, you’re not obligated to use the county sheriff. You can ask any adult to deliver your summons or petition for you. If your spouse is suspicious, he might not open the door for one of your family members, but you can ask a friend he doesn’t know. All he has to do is open the door when this person knocks or rings the bell. He doesn’t actually have to take the papers from your friend’s hand. She can state, “You’ve been served with divorce papers,” and simply leave them on his doorstep if he tries to close the door. Your friend would have to sign a proof of service, attesting that she did this, which you must file with the court.

Process Server

If you don’t want to involve a friend in such a touchy procedure, Washington allows you to hire a private process server to deliver your summons and petition. A process server has experience in serving papers on reluctant spouses and probably has a whole host of tricks up his sleeve to get the job done. Unlike the county sheriff, he won’t wear a uniform that might tip off your spouse. You’re paying him for his time, so he’ll dedicate the hours necessary to tracking your spouse down and officially serving your papers through abode or personal service, even if he has to catch up with your spouse in a restaurant or parking lot. A professional process server will also provide you with a proof of service when he’s completed the job, which you can file with the court.

Alternate Means of Service

Few spouses manage to elude service in Washington forever; the state’s abode service provisions and litigants’ rights to use professional process servers make this difficult. However, if your spouse is exceptionally determined and you simply can’t serve him in any other way, you can file a motion with the court asking to serve him either by mail or publication. You’ll have to document all your efforts to have the papers delivered and what your spouse did each time to avoid service. If you can prove this “due diligence” on your part, the court will allow you to use an alternate means of service and get on with your divorce.