Do Divorce Papers Expire if Not Served?

By Beverly Bird

Divorce involves an intricate series of rules -- and many of them come with deadlines. Service of process is one such rule. Your spouse has a right to defend himself in the divorce action, so you must serve your divorce papers on him according to the laws of your state. There's usually a deadline by which you must do so, but it can vary depending on where you live.

Divorce involves an intricate series of rules -- and many of them come with deadlines. Service of process is one such rule. Your spouse has a right to defend himself in the divorce action, so you must serve your divorce papers on him according to the laws of your state. There's usually a deadline by which you must do so, but it can vary depending on where you live.

The Summons Expires

Technically, your divorce petition or complaint doesn't expire if you don't serve it on your spouse -- but the corresponding summons does. A summons is an additional document you must file with your petition in most states, informing your spouse that you're suing him for divorce. The amount of time you have to serve your summons, along with the petition, can be as short as four months in New York, or up to two years in California. Sometimes county rules can override state rules, so check with your local courthouse to be sure how much time you have.

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The Court Can Dismiss

If your summons expires for lack of service, some states will dismiss your divorce pleadings. In other jurisdictions, dismissal may not be automatic. However, if your summons isn't valid anymore, you can't serve it with your petition, and without service, the divorce will not move forward. This doesn't mean you have to stay married though. You can refile for divorce and start over. If you couldn't serve your spouse because you don't know where he is, it's possible that you may be able to achieve service through other methods, such as posting a notice in a newspaper.

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

References

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Filing a Divorce Notification for an Absent Spouse in Missouri

Missouri allows you to proceed with a divorce if you’ve lost track of your spouse's whereabouts, but you’ll have to convince the court that you did everything possible to find him. Like most states, Missouri offers an option called "service by publication," so you can notify your spouse of your divorce proceedings with a legal notice in the newspaper. It entails filing a variety of documents with the court.

Texas Divorce Laws When a Respondent Cannot Be Located

The typical divorce process requires you to serve your spouse with divorce papers, but you may not be able to get the papers to your spouse if you don’t know where he is. However, that doesn’t mean you have to stay married. Though it is more difficult to divorce when you cannot locate your spouse, Texas laws on service by publication and posting make it possible.

Motion to Reinstate a Divorce Complaint

Deadlines and mandatory court filings can complicate the divorce process, especially when you’re representing yourself and you're unsure of the rules. It’s surprisingly easy to take a misstep that might result in the court throwing out your case by dismissing your complaint. Fortunately, you can usually remedy the situation very easily by correcting your error and filing a motion with the court to reinstate it.

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