Service of Process

What is service of process?

When you file a legal case against someone, including for divorce, parentage, or child support, you have to serve the other party (the respondent) with a formal notice of the lawsuit, and let them know how soon they must response. The legal name for this is “Service of Process.”

Although there multiple ways to serve someone, in Cook County, the traditional way is for the County Sheriff to personally deliver a summons and a copy of the petition to the other party at their home or office.

Can’t I just mail the summons to the respondent?

No, in Cook County family law cases, if the respondent must be served, you have to do it formally.  You cannot simply mail a copy, even certified mail. They must be served by with papers by another person, including a copy of the petition and the summons.

Do I have to serve the respondent?

Not always. If the respondent wants to participate in the lawsuit, for example to sign a settlement agreement, you can informally let them know that you’ve filed the case. They can then go to the courthouse to file their voluntary “Appearance” and pay their court fee. By filing an appearance form with the court, the other party acknowledges notification of the lawsuit, therefore, official service is not necessary.

But if the respondent isn’t willing to file a voluntary appearance, you have to formally serve them before the court will be enter an orders.

How do I serve the respondent?

Service is traditionally accomplished by the County Sheriff. The sheriff will go to the party’s home or office, and deliver a copy of the petition and the summons to them personally. In Cook County, Illinois, this will cost $60. There are a few alternatives, however.

  1.  Counterservice allows the other party to voluntarily pick up a copy of the petition in the summons from the Sheriff’s office. In Cook County, Illinois, counterservice costs $50.
  2.  You can have the court appoint a third-party who is over the age of 18 to serve the other party. There are private companies for hire, or a friend or family member can be used. This is called a “Special Process Server.” Prior permission from the court is required, but there is no charge when using a special process server.

What if the respondent lives outside of Cook County or the state of Illinois?

If you’re using the Sheriff to serve the papers, you must contact the Sheriff’s office of the County in which the party lives. Costs will vary by county.

What if I can’t serve my spouse?

If you do not know the whereabouts of your spouse, or he or she is avoiding service, they can be served by publication. Simply take out a small ad in the legal newspaper that runs for three weeks. In Cook County, this cost $193. When service is done by publication, the court is unable to award certain items like child support or maintenance. However, custody of children can be awarded by publication.