Service in a divorce rarely comes with a smile. The term refers to the process of getting a copy of your petition for divorce into the hands of your spouse. The Constitution guarantees every person the right to participate in a court proceeding against him and a divorce action is no exception. As the petitioner in a divorce action in Georgia, you are responsible both for making sure your spouse is properly presented with a copy of the initial paperwork and also for proving to the court that he received it. Georgia statutes provide several ways to accomplish these legal requirements.
Service by Mail
Some spouses remain friendly while divorcing and cooperate to make the process as easy and inexpensive as possible. If this is your case, service of the divorce petition is a simple matter of mailing it to your spouse together with an Acknowledgment of Service form. Your spouse signs this form before a notary, swearing under oath that he received a copy of the divorce petition. Then he sends it back to you so you can file the Acknowledgment of Service form with the divorce court.
Service by Sheriff
If your Georgia divorce is not sufficiently amicable, such that you cannot count on your spouse signing and returning the Acknowledgment of Service form, you can ask the sheriff to serve it for you. You provide the sheriff with your spouse's address and physical description and then pay a small service fee. The sheriff will go to the address provided to attempt service -- if your spouse comes to the door, the sheriff hands him the petition. She then fills out a form proving that she served your spouse and setting forth the date, time and place of service, which you file with the court.
Service by Private Process Server
Some spouses successfully avoid service by refusing to answer the door or by taking other evasive action. In this case, you can hire a private individual to track down your spouse and hand him the papers. Georgia statutes authorize service by a private individual only if you seek and obtain prior court approval. In some counties, the courts keep lists of permanently appointed and approved private process servers. You can hire a server from the list to find and serve the divorce petition on your spouse. In other counties, you must file papers asking the court to appoint a specified person to serve process. When the court signs the order appointing that person, the server can attempt to serve the papers for you. If service is successful, the process server signs a form under oath setting forth the details of service, which you file with the court.
Service by Publication
If you do not know where your spouse lives or works, neither a sheriff nor an individual process server will be able to serve him. Georgia law provides for service by publication as a last resort. To use it, you must first try hard to find your spouse and detail those efforts in a form entitled Affidavit of Diligent Search. When you file this affidavit with the court, you also file: Notice of Publication, Order of Publication, Return of Service and Order Perfecting Service. If persuaded that you used every effort to find and serve your spouse, the judge will sign the Order of Publication authorizing service to be published for four consecutive weeks in the official, legal newspaper in your county. You pay a fee for this publication. Once publication is completed, the newspaper provides you with an Affidavit of Publication that you give to the court. The judge looks over the documentation and, if all is in order, signs the Order Perfecting Service. Your spouse has 60 days to answer the petition.
A Georgia court only has legal authority to rule on persons and matters within its jurisdiction. As long as you are a Georgia resident for six months before filing, the court has jurisdiction over your divorce. But if your spouse resides in another state and has never lived in Georgia, the Georgia court may not be able to address certain issues, such as out-of-state property. Generally, such issues must be brought before a court in the state where you last lived with your spouse or where the property is located.