Service of process is the procedure by which a party to a lawsuit provides the other party or parties with legal notice of the action and an opportunity to respond. In Florida, service of process in family law cases is governed by the Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure and the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure. Here's a general overview:
1. **Summons**: When a family law action (e.g., divorce, child custody, child support, etc.) is initiated, the petitioner (the person starting the action) must prepare a summons. The Clerk of Court will issue the summons.
2. **Service on Respondent**: The respondent (the other party) must be personally served with a copy of the petition or complaint and the summons. The service must be done by:
- A Sheriff of the county where the respondent can be found, or
- A certified process server approved by the court.
3. **Alternative Methods**: If personal service can't be accomplished:
- **Constructive Service (Notice by Publication)**: If the respondent cannot be found after a diligent search, the petitioner can ask the court for permission to serve the respondent by publication. This means publishing a notice in a newspaper for a specific duration. However, before this is allowed, the petitioner must show they made a genuine effort to locate the respondent.
- **Service by Mail**: In some circumstances, with court approval, service may be done via mail, especially if the respondent lives out of state.
4. **Proof of Service**: Once service has been achieved, the individual who served the documents (either the sheriff or the certified process server) must complete an "Affidavit of Service" or "Proof of Service" form. This document is then filed with the court to show that the respondent was properly notified.
5. **Time to Respond**: After being served, the respondent has a specific amount of time to file a response. For most family law actions in Florida, the respondent has 20 days from the date of service to file an answer or other responsive pleading with the court.
6. **Waiver of Service**: In some cases, the respondent may choose to waive formal service. This usually happens in uncontested actions or when both parties are working amicably. The respondent signs a document acknowledging receipt of the petition/complaint and waiving formal service.
It's important to get service right. If a party is not properly served, any orders or judgments the court issues might be void. Therefore, if you're involved in a Florida family law case, it's crucial to consult with an attorney or familiarize yourself thoroughly with the rules and procedures to ensure you're adhering to the law.