Once you have filed the divorce papers, how does your spouse find out about it? Historically, the sheriff of the county where you filed your divorce would be responsible for delivering a copy of the papers to your spouse. The sheriff could be directed to serve your spouse at work, at home or at some other place. Although the sheriff can still serve papers, many lawyers choose to use other people called private process servers to deliver the papers. In fact, anyone over eighteen years old can serve the divorce papers if they are not involved in the litigation.
There are several advantages and disadvantages to using private process servers instead of the sheriff’s department. First, a private process-server is in business to make money. A private process-server is paid for his or her work not by the government, but by the person requesting his or her services. If as your attorney, I wanted your spouse served divorce papers at 5:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon at the local no-tell motel where we knew your spouse would be spending several hours engaged in an extra-marital dalliance, we could pay the private process-server to serve the papers at that time and place. In fact, I can have a private process-server meet me at the courthouse, take the papers within minutes of filing the divorce, and have them served within the hour. However, your will pay for what you get (or want). A private process-server will cost anywhere from $35.00 to upwards of $90.00 or more depending on the particular request. Most good divorce attorneys will have private process servers he or she can call on to perform magic on short notice, all while the sheriff’s deputy is finishing his donut. But don’t count the sheriff’s deputy out just yet.
The sheriff’s deputy has a distinct advantage over the private process-server. That advantage is a gun, a (real) badge, a uniform and an official car with blue lights affixed to the top. Additionally, the sheriff’s deputy has taken an oath to uphold the law and has a legal duty to perform his or her job, which includes serving process.
Imagine hearing a knock at the door, looking out the bedroom window and seeing a sheriff’s cruiser parked in your driveway and a uniformed, fully armed deputy at the door. What are you likely to do? If you’ve recently robbed a bank you will likely bolt out the back door into the woods; otherwise, you will likely go to the door to find out what’s up. On the other hand, what if you looked out the bedroom window and saw on old 1975 Chevy Nova in the driveway and a middle-aged man dressed in blue jeans and an old T-shirt standing at the door with a fist full of paperwork in his left hand. You might just call the sheriff’s deputy to come find out what’s up. That’s the difference between a sheriff’s deputy and a private process server.