What Is a Divorce Case Summons and Why Is It Important?

Worried man receiving a summons while sitting in his office

Generally speaking, a “summons” is an official court document (prepared by one of the attorneys representing the plaintiff) that is hand-delivered to the “target” of a court case. Generally, the “target” of a lawsuit is called the “Defendant” and the person or business that starts the case is called the “Plaintiff.” A summons is used in all sorts of civil cases, like a personal injury or breach of contract cases. In Maryland and District of Columbia divorce proceedings, a summons is prepared by the spouse who files first and is hand-delivered to the other spouse.

A summons is most commonly hand-delivered by the County Sheriff’s office. So, if there is a knock on the door and a Deputy Sheriff is outside, likely, you are being served with a summons. Typically, the Sheriff’s office will make one or more attempts to serve a summons. If those efforts are unsuccessful, the summons can be served by what is called a Special Process Server (“SPS”). A SPS is appointed by the court to accomplish service of summons. To have a SPS appointed, the plaintiff’s attorney must make a request with the judge assigned to the case.

In terms of timing, the Sheriff’s office will attempt service very quickly – within a week or 10 days. It typically takes a few days to determine if the Sheriff’s service has been unsuccessful. Then, it takes a few days to make the request for an SPS. Thus, the SPS will probably not attempt service until, maybe, about three weeks after the case has been filed.

Generally, the Sheriff’s office will only attempt service at the home of the defendant. By contrast, a SPS will attempt personal hand-delivery of the summons at any place that the defendant can be found – such as a place of work. Unlike the Sheriff’s office, a SPS will make as many attempts as necessary – within reason – to accomplish service of summons. If you have received a summons in a Maryland/DC divorce case, call us here at the Law Offices of Thomas Stahl. Call for a consultation at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280. We have offices in Columbia, MD and Washington, DC.

What is the purpose of a Maryland/DC divorce court summons? Legally, service of summons is required before the divorce case can proceed. Service of summons is the legal mechanism that gives the Maryland/DC court power and authority over the defendant even if the defendant objects to being subject to the power and authority of the court. Without service of summons, the court has no power to order the defendant to, for example, divide his or her assets with the spouse, pay child support, pay alimony, etc. The court’s power and authority over the plaintiff is essentially voluntary, since the plaintiff started the lawsuit.

Maryland and DC Divorce and Family Law Attorneys

For more information, contact the seasoned and experienced Maryland and DC divorce, family law and estate planning attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl. We have the experience and expertise you need. We also have proven experience with divorce and family law for Maryland and the District of Columbia. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280. We have offices in Columbia, MD and Washington, DC.

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