WHAT IS SERVICE?
"Service" is a legal way of making sure that the opposing party gets a copy of the papers that you are filing with the court. If you are starting a case, your case cannot proceed until the other side has received a copy of your papers in the official way required by Georgia law. It is usually not enough to simply mail a copy to the other side, or for you to give them a copy. You must follow one of the processes described below in order for your papers to be properly served on the other side. The type of case that you are filing, or filing an answer to, determines which process you should use. Please consult an attorney if you need assistance.
WAYS TO SERVE
There are several ways to serve someone with a copy of your papers. The type of case that you are starting will determine which method of service can be used. Some types of cases allow for more than one type of service. You must decide which method of service to use, based on what you are asking for in your case, because some methods of service limit what the Judge can give you. First, determine what service method is permitted for your type of action. To do this, read the instructions for the particular type of case or action you are filing. For example, when filing for divorce, read the instructions in the Divorce packet to determine which method of service you must use. Once that is determined, you can use the information provided in this packet to help you proceed with serving your papers.
The Family Law Information Center has packets of forms and instructions for the following actions: divorce, legitimation, contempt, modification, and paternity. There is a charge for these packets if obtained from the Family Law Information Center. Some individual forms for service are available without charge. Many, but not all, of the packets and forms can be downloaded from this website.
METHODS OF SERVICE
An Acknowledgment of Service is when the person you are filing an action against agrees to accept a copy of the
papers from you, and signs an Acknowledgment of Service form in front of a Notary Public. This notarized document
lets the court know that the party has received the papers. This method may be used if:
the opposing side lives in Fulton County, or
you live in Fulton County and the opposing party lives in another state but previously lived in Georgia. This is easiest and least expensive method of service.
This method of service is exactly the same as the Acknowledgment of Service described above. However, this method must be used when you live in Fulton County and the opposing side lives in another county in Georgia. He/she must agree that the case may be brought in Fulton County. In order for you to be able to bring your action in Fulton County court, the opposing side must sign a Waiver of Venue, as well as an Acknowledgment of Service. (The two forms can be combined into one form, called Acknowledgement of Service and Waiver of Venue, or you may use two separate forms.)
Follow the same instructions given for Acknowledgment of Service.
If the opposing side will not sign an Acknowledgment of Service, consider having the opposing side served with a copy of your papers by Personal Service. In this type of situation, Personal Service is recommended, because the opposing party is served, in person, with a copy of your papers by either the sheriff, or a private process server. You must know either the current home address or work address, of the opposing side, and the address must be in Fulton County.
Service by Sheriff
The Clerk will give the copy of your petition that has the Summons and the attached Sheriff’s Entry of Service to the Sheriff’s Office. A sheriff will then go out and serve the opposing side with a copy of your petition. The sheriff will send you a copy of the service sheet indicating the date he/she either served, or attempted service on the opposing side. If the sheriff was unable to serve the opposing side at the address you listed, you will need to try to get a better address. Once you have another address for service, you will have to complete another Sheriff’s Entry of Service form and give it to the clerk, who will again give it to the sheriff. If you are certain that the address you provided was correct, indicate to the sheriff the best time of the day to serve the opposing party. If you have a picture of the opposing party, please attach it to the service papers.
Service by Private Process Server
If you do not want the sheriff to serve the papers on the opposing side, you can have a Private Process Server serve your petition. You may decide to use a private process server if you think the opposing side will try to avoid service. If you choose to have a private process server, you can either:
When service is performed by either the sheriff or a private process server, a copy of the Summons attached to a copy of your petition will be delivered to the opposing side personally, at his/her house, or usual place of abode, with some person of suitable age and discretion living there. If you are having a minor served by either the sheriff or private process server, then you must also serve the minor’s mother, father, guardian or guardian ad litem.
When service is made by the process server, he/she must make an affidavit stating the case and civil action number, date, place and manner of service. This affidavit is then returned to the court for filing.
Where you are filing your petition in Fulton County, but the opposing party is not a resident of Fulton County (opposing party lives in another county in Georgia, or in another state) and will not sign an Acknowledgment of Service form, then your petition must be served by the sheriff in the county where the opposing party resides. You must determine whether or not it is permissible to file your case in Fulton County if the opposing party does not live in Fulton County. Please read the instructions for the particular action you are filing to determine whether or not you can file your petition in Fulton County. You must also know either the current home or work address of the opposing party.
The sheriff will then send you a copy of the service sheet, indicating the date he/she either served, or attempted service, on the opposing side. The second original will be returned to the court for filing. If the sheriff is unable to serve the opposing side at the address you listed, then you may need to try to provide a better address for service.
If you do not know where the opposing party resides, or you are seeking a divorce and your spouse has never lived in Georgia, then Service by Publication may be your only option. Please read the instructions for the type of case you are filing to determine whether or not your petition may be served by publication.
The Clerk of the Court will sign your notice indicating that the petition is to be served by publication and send it to the Fulton County Daily Report. The notice must be published four times within 60 days after you file it, and publications must be seven days apart. The published notice will have the names of the parties, the name of the court where the case will heard, the type of case (divorce, paternity, etc.), the date it was filed, the date of the order for service by publication, and a notice for the opposing party to file an answer within 60 days.
You will be mailed a copy of each publication. Once it has been published for the proper time, the county newspaper will mail you an Affidavit of Publication stating that the publication is complete. You must bring this affidavit with you to your final hearing as proof that service by publication has been completed. If you are doing a Name Change Petition, you will need to bring your Affidavit of Publication to the Clerk of Superior Court as proof that service by publication has been completed. The clerk will inform you of who the presiding judge is for the day and you will need to take your original petition, the Affidavit of Publication, and the Final Decree For Name Change for the judge to sign.
If you have a "last known address", or your spouse has never resided in Georgia and you know your spouse’s address, you must inform the clerk of that address. The clerk will then, within 15 days, mail a copy of the Notice, a copy of the Order for Service by Publication, and copy of your petition to the opposing party at his/her last known address, or known address for nonresident and make an entry of this action on the petition. The copy of the Notice mailed to the opposing party must be a duplicate of the one published in the newspaper.
If you later find out where the other side lives, then you should amend your petition to be served personally on the other side and have that person personally served (by a sheriff) with a copy of your petition. This may impact the court’s ability to hear your case if the other side does not live in Fulton County. You should speak with an attorney.
Service by mailing the opposing party a copy of your petition via certified mail is rarely acceptable. You must read the instructions for the type of case you are filing to determine whether or not this is an acceptable form of service. After you have prepared your petition and made three (3) copies, get two (2) Summons from the Clerk’s Office. Complete the information requested in the Summons. File your original petition with the Clerk of Superior Court, and have the clerk file stamp all of your copies. Attach one (1) original Summons to one (1) petition. Attach the other Summons to the third copy of your petition. Mail one set to the opposing party via certified mail. Service will be completed only if the certified mail is signed by the opposing party, and you file the returned certificate of service with the Clerk of Superior Court.
SERVING AN OPPOSING PARTY WHO IS IN PRISON (OR JAIL)
If the opposing party is currently in prison or jail, you must first determine in what county your case can be filed. Prison or jail is not the opposing party’s "place of residence" so you can only file in Fulton County if:
the opposing party lived in Fulton County immediately prior to being incarcerated and considers Fulton County his/her county of residence or
you live in Fulton County and the opposing party is incarcerated in another state, but previously lived in Georgia.
If the opposing party lived in Fulton County, and is in prison/jail in Fulton County, follow the instructions for Personal Service.
If the opposing party lived in Fulton County, and is in prison/jail in a county other than Fulton County, follow the instructions for Personal Service by Second Original.
If the opposing party previously lived in Georgia, and is in prison/jail in another state, follow the instructions for Personal Service by Second Original.
Completing the Sheriff’s Entry of Service
Certain information is needed so that the opposing party can be properly identified at the prison or jail. Since it is not unusual for more than one inmate to have the same name, it is very important that the papers be served on the correct party.