Go back to the Divorce Information Sheet that came with your court forms packet. Read it carefully. It tells you how to serve and file your forms.
In a court case, ‘serve’ means giving court papers to the other party according to the rules of the court. ‘File’ means giving court papers (like forms, requests or ‘motions,’ or your divorce complaint) to the court – usually by sending or delivering them to the court clerk.
Serving Divorce Papers in Maine – Some tips and common questions
Do you always have to pay the “service fee?”
You can avoid paying a "service fee" if your spouse signs the acknowledgement of service form. This form doesn’t mean they agree with everything in your divorce complaint. It is a quick and simple way of telling the court they have received the important court forms and information they need to know about and participate in their divorce case.
You can give the papers to your spouse by handing it to them or by sending it to them by regular mail. If they do not agree to this, you will have to pay for "service." Learn your options by reading the Divorce Information Sheet that came with your divorce forms packet (read more above).
What if my spouse won’t sign the acknowledgement of service form?
If the defendant refused to sign, you can send the papers by "certified mail return receipt requested."
This means the papers will get mailed to the Defendant and they will need to sign for the mail before they receive it. If they don't sign for it, it will get mailed back to you and you will need to try to serve in a different way. If they do sign for the mail, the post office will send you a card back showing that they have received the mail and have signed for it. You can then give this to the court clerk as proof that the defendant has now been served.
If you think that one of the two mail methods will work, you can serve copies of your papers before you file the originals with the court. When you use this "serve first" method, you have 20 days to file your papers with the court after serving them on your spouse.
What if service by mail doesn’t work?
If the mail methods don't work because the defendant is avoiding service, you can use the Service by Sheriff method. This costs more.
- If you can't afford the fee, you can file your papers with the court first, along with your fee waiver application.
- Explain in your application why you need to use Service by Sheriff.
- If the court approves your application, the court will pay for the cost of Sheriff Service.
- When you use this "file first" method, you have 90 days to serve after filing.
What if I don’t know where my spouse is? How can I serve them?
You may not be able to find your spouse. If you have made all reasonable efforts but still cannot find the defendant, the court may let you do "Service by Alternative Means."
- Get the court's instruction sheet on Service by Alternative Means here.
- Follow the instructions. You may ask for a fee waiver if you cannot afford the cost.
- You can get all the forms you need (listed on the instruction sheet) from the Court Clerk, or online at PTLA or the Court's website.
- This "alternative means" service can be complicated. We recommend that you get help from a lawyer if you can afford it. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you can speak with a volunteer lawyer at CHAP.
What if I am the one who was “served” with the papers?
The spouse who files and serves the papers is the "Plaintiff." The spouse who receives the papers is the "Defendant."
The court papers you get, as the Defendant, may include an "Acknowledgment of Receipt" form. This form is meant to make the “service” process quicker and simpler. By signing and returning the form, you are only agreeing that you got the divorce papers. You are not agreeing to everything in the Plaintiff's Complaint. You will have the chance to explain where you stand on issues at the conference, the mediation, and any formal hearings you may have.
What other forms will I need as the Defendant?
Defendants need to complete and file an Entry of Appearance form. On this form, be sure to include your correct address. Then the court will know where to send you all important notices and court dates. "File" by mailing or hand-delivering to the court. Send a copy of this, and all your court filings, to the Plaintiff. Keep a copy for your own file.
Defendants also need to complete and file an Answer. You have 20 days to do this, starting from the day you were "served."
The divorce form includes a Counterclaim. This Counterclaim is your request for a divorce. If you do not file a Counterclaim and the Plaintiff decides to dismiss their case or does not show up at the final hearing, the court will dismiss the case. Then you would have to file a new complaint, starting all over again. By including a Counterclaim with your Answer, you are making sure your case will move forward even if the Plaintiff decides to dismiss their complaint or does not show up.
What happens after divorce papers have been served and filed?
Within two months of getting the Plaintiff's Complaint, the court will send both of you a scheduling notice. This will include a time and date to appear in court.
Read on. The rest of this guide applies to both spouses.
Can I sell or get rid of property?
The court has ordered both of you to preserve all marital property while your case is pending.
This means that you cannot give away, sell, or destroy any property that your spouse may have an interest in. For example, you can't sell the family car. One parent cannot cancel the other parent's or children's health insurance.
These orders are included in the Summons and Preliminary Injunction form (see “Notice to Both Parties” on page 2) that the Plaintiff "served" on the Defendant. These orders apply to both of you. To avoid serious penalties, you need permission from the court to do any of these things. We advise you to talk to a lawyer before doing anything that may violate this order.
What happens if I don’t go to a court meeting or hearing?
It is important that you show up for all court dates. Be on time and be prepared. If you don't go, you can be "defaulted," which means that the court gives the other party what they want, including how to divide your property, money, and debts because you didn't show up. The court can also charge you for costs, such as court fees or the other party's attorney fees.
What if I move or change phone numbers while my court case is pending?
Notify the court in writing right away if your mailing address or telephone number changes. The court clerk needs to be able to find you. Otherwise, you may not get court notices, causing you to miss important court dates. You can use this court form to notify the court of address or phone number changes.