Requirements for Service in Family Law in Wisconsin

In the law, “service” is a term for providing formal notice of a lawsuit, court hearing or document to another person. Depending on the action that is being filed, there are different methods and very strict time limits by which you must have the other party notified, or served.

Service is critical in all cases, because if you do not serve the other party within the correct time limits and using the correct method, the court cannot hear or come to a decision on your case. There are two types of service: personal service and service by mail.

Personal service can be accomplished by the following methods:

(1) Admission of Service– a form where the other party may admit that they were served once they receive a copy of the forms

(2) Service by the Sheriff’s Department

(3) Service by the Private Process Server

(4) Service by someone who is over 18, a resident of Wisconsin and is not a party to the action.

(5) As a last resort, you can complete service by Publication. You MUST show that you have attempted one of the four methods above before resorting to publication and usually the court must approve this method first.

If you are serving something by mail, you must provide proof by either signing a sworn Affidavit of Mailing in the presence of a Notary Public and giving a copy to the Court OR by some type of mail receipt such as certified mail.

Below are some of the different family court actions that are filed, the type of service required for each action, and the time limits in which the action must be served:

1. Summons and Petition for Divorce/Legal Separation:  Must have personal service and must be served within 90 calendar days from the date the divorce/legal separation was filed

2. Order to Show Cause and Affidavit (i.e. for Temporary Order): Personal service is required and must be served not less than 5 business days before the date of the hearing or as otherwise ordered by the court.

3. Response and Counterclaim:  Can be served by mail and must be filed within 20 calendar days after the date of service.

4. Order to Appear:  Must be personally served and not less than 24 hours if the other party lives within the county the action is filed OR not less than 72 hours if the other party does not live in the county the action is filed, but in the State of Wisconsin.

5. Notice of Motion and Motion:  Contempt motions must be personally served but all other motions can be served by mail.  Service must be not less than 5 business days before the date of the hearing.

6. Petition to Enforce Placement:  Personal service is required not less than 5 business days before the date of the hearing.

If the other party is represented by an attorney, copies of all documents must be sent to the attorney.  If service by mail is required, the document is to be mailed to the attorney, not to the party.

What Does “Service” Mean in a Divorce and How Is It Accomplished?

In a Wisconsin divorce, once the Petition for Divorce is filed, it is necessary to “serve” the respondent with the paperwork.  There are several ways to accomplish service which depends on different circumstances.

  1. If the respondent is unrepresented or uncooperative, service must be accomplished by having a process server (or sheriff) locate the respondent either at home or at work and physically give the papers to the respondent.
  2. If the respondent is represented, your attorney can mail the papers to the other attorney and request that an acknowledgement of service be executed by the respondent.
  3. If you are confident that the respondent will be cooperative, your attorney can send the respondent a letter requesting that he/she come to your attorney’s office, pick up the papers and sign an Admission of Service.
  4. If traditional means of service are exhausted with no avail or if the location of the respondent is unknown, you can serve the respondent by publication.

Proper service is essential.  You may not serve the papers yourself or have a friend or family member serve the respondent.  Improper service will jeopardize your case, so it is vital that service is done timely and correctly.

To schedule a free initial office consultation to discuss your options for divorce and serving divorce papers, please contact us at 414-258-1644 or visit our website for further information.