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Starting a Family Law Case in Virginia – SERVICE OF PROCESS

May 24, 2024

If someone wants to start a civil case in Virginia, like for divorce or child custody, they have to do two things.

First, they file a pleading to begin the case. For a divorce, they file a divorce complaint. For child custody, visitation or support, they file a custody, visitation or support petition. After filing, the court clerk issues a summons. A summons is a notice from the court telling the other person about the case. It may order them to file a response or appear in court. This leads to the second requirement.

Second, after getting the summons, the person must properly serve the paperwork and summons on the other party. This is called “service of process.” Usually, a private process server or sheriff serves the other party by hand-delivering the paperwork to them.

How is Service of Process Completed?

Virginia law allows a few ways to properly serve someone in a family law case:

  • Hand-delivering the paperwork directly to the person.
  • If they aren’t home, leaving it with a family member over age 16 who lives there.
  • If no one is home, posting the paperwork on the front door, mailing a copy later, and filing proof of mailing with the court.

Who Can Serve Process in Virginia?

In Virginia, there are a few different ways that legal process can be served in a family law case:

  • By a private process server. Private process serving companies employ individuals who are authorized to serve legal documents. Many attorneys hire private process servers to handle service.
  • By a sheriff or deputy sheriff. The sheriff’s office in the county/city where the person being served resides can have a deputy sheriff perform service of process.
  • By a party over 18 years old who is not involved in the case. Virginia law allows any person over 18 who is not a party to the case to serve the documents, as long as they follow the proper service procedures.
  • By a special process server appointed by the court. In some circumstances, the court can appoint a particular person to act as a special process server for service in a specific case.

It is usually a good idea to serve process through a private process server or through the sheriff’s office.  An experienced attorney can help ensure service is carried out properly.

What if I don’t know where to find the opposing party?

If the other person can’t be found to serve them, the paperwork may be served by publication in a newspaper once a week for four consecutive weeks after getting court approval. Then the case can proceed without them if they do not respond.  

What if Service of Process isn’t Performed Properly?

If service isn’t done correctly, the case usually can’t move forward. However, sometimes the other person can choose to waive proper service. A waiver of service must also be completed properly by meeting the requirements of Virginia law.  An experienced family law attorney can ensure the other party is properly served and guide you through the whole process.

Contact an experienced family law attorney

If you need assistance starting a divorce, child custody, visitation or child support, the attorneys at Bourdon & Tortolero can help. We have the skills and experience to help you initiate a case, ensure that the opposing party is properly served and guide you through the entire process.  Learn more by contacting or calling us at 703-440-7820 today.

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