When you serve divorce papers to your spouse, it means you have filed a formal notice of separation from him or her with the court. The papers equate to both a summons for the respondent (or spouse you are separating from) to appear in court and an official complaint. Legally, the courtroom requires that the respondent be notified that the process of divorce has begun, that he or she receive copies of the papers that have been filed, and be given adequate time to respond to the case and the summons.

But sometimes it’s not that easy.

Sometimes the respondent is nowhere to be found. When the other party can’t receive the notice of the case and the papers can’t be served using reasonable diligence (or effort on your part), you can ask for permission to provide service by publication from the court. You can also opt to prove to the court that the respondent is avoiding being served the papers.

If you can’t find the other party, make sure that you document your efforts. Record the date, time, and location; this information will be helpful if you need to tell the court you couldn’t find them, but did try. You don’t have to try everything listed here, but these efforts will help you proceed with the case.

Serving Divorce Papers in Another State

Utah law states that someone living outside of Utah can be served papers in the same manner as someone living in Utah. This is written out in Utah Rules of Civil Procedure 4.


Serving Divorce Papers to an Inmate in Jail or Prison

  • If Your Spouse is in Jail: If the respondent is incarcerated, you must obtain his or her inmate number. To obtain the number, call the jail or prison with his or her social security number in hand. A sheriff or private process server can then serve the divorce papers on your behalf. The reason you need someone else to serve your papers for you is because inmates can’t sign for certified mail, and the inmate may refuse to visit with you.
  • If Your Spouse is in Utah State Prison: If the respondent in incarcerated, he or she has the lawful right to contest the divorce. This does happen. Some prisoners contest a divorce in order to leave the prison for a court appearance. Contesting may cost a bit more to a prison.
  • If Your Spouse is in Prison Located in Another State: The state of Utah needs to be able to exercise jurisdiction over the inmate to have the papers properly served and for the case to begin. The good news is that Utah (and other states) have what is called a “long arm statute.” This statue goes beyond personal jurisdiction and exercises jurisdiction across the borders of states, but the people involved in the case have to meet certain criteria first. This criterion will depend on the situation and particulars of the divorce. You may want to contact an attorney for help with your particular case.
Download Utah Long Arm Statute

Serving Divorce Papers to Someone You Can’t Find

Serving Papers Through Facebook (or Other Means)


If the respondent can’t be found in person, you may file what is called a motion for alternative service, which will give you the permission to serve the divorce papers in an alternative manner. However, you must get permission from the judge first. The judge may give you permission if you did try to locate the other party first.

You must explain what methods you think are most likely to work for the notification, and if that’s Facebook, you are lawfully allowed to try that.

You may also give notification by doing the following:

  • Submitting it through the webpage for Utah’s Legal Notices, which can be found at
  • Sending a text message
  • Sending an email
  • Writing to the party on social media (Facebook)
  • Trying a combination of the above

Serving Divorce Papers to Active Duty Military

Serving divorce papers to someone in the active duty military can be difficult, especially if they’re currently overseas. It’s recommended that you contact an attorney. The Service Members Civil Relief Act allows members of the military to postpone legal proceedings while they are serving.

Serving Divorce Papers Out of Country

Serving divorce papers to someone who is currently outside of the United States borders is also difficult, and it is recommended that you contact an attorney for assistance. Civil Rule 4 states that there may be an “internationally agreed upon” way to serve the divorce papers. This method is commonly referred to as ‘service of process in foreign countries.’

Acceptable means to serve the papers might include filling out an official request using form USM-94 or using service of process with international registered mail.

However, some countries don’t allow service of process with international registered mail. There are certain countries that do not allow it and the list is rather long. Some of these countries include China, Germany, Mexico, Ukraine, Switzerland, and Turkey. Contact an attorney for assistance if you believe the other party is living outside of the United States.

Contact Utah Divorce Attorney David Pedrazas for Service of Process Help

If you are in any of the difficult situations that were listed in this article, contact the law offices of David Pedrazas for help. We can be reached by phone at 801-263-7078, or online by filling out this short contact form. Don’t hesitate — we offer Legal Case Reviews, and we have several years of experience with handling difficult divorce cases.

You may also be interested in reading:

6 Tips When Served Divorce Papers

What to Do When Served Divorce Papers