The first thing any litigant needs to decide when filing a new case, be it for a divorce or custody situation, is whether or not they want to formally “serve” the other party. This can be an important thing to discuss in a civil case because it often sets the tone as to how the case will proceed.
Being served is really a simple thing. The sheriff, or special process server, if appointed, goes out and finds the Respondent and hands them a copy of a Summons as well as the relevant Petition(s) that were filed against them. Ideally the process server will serve the Respondent personally, although in some situations, leaving the documents to be served at the person’s place of abode with a person who lives there and appears to be over a specific age, and mailing copies, may count as good service. Personal service, where the Respondent is actually personally handed the documents, is preferable. Additionally, it is noteworthy that if the Respondent runs away from a process server, depending upon the circumstances, the person may still be served.
Now that we know what the act of “serving” someone is, you may wonder why it is important. In Illinois, once a person is served, they generally have 30 days (although sometimes this varies) from the day after they are served to notify the Court that they intend to participate in the litigation by filing an Appearance or hiring an attorney to file one on their behalf. If the relevant time period goes by and the Respondent has not filed an Appearance and has not caused an Appearance to be filed on their behalf (i.e. through a lawyer) the Petitioner may be able to proceed without the Respondent.
Some people choose not to serve the other party. Sometimes people are embarrassed by being served, if they are being served in public or perhaps at their office. There really is nothing to be embarrassed about and most of the time people around you may not even notice that you were served (unless you make a big scene and draw attention to it). If a Petitioner believes their spouse wants to participate willingly and voluntarily in the proceedings, or If they know the Respondent has an attorney who will accept service for the Respondent, or if the Petitioner doesn’t want to surprise the Respondent and “get off on the wrong foot” they may choose to send the Petition to the Respondent and give them a time frame to file an Appearance, otherwise state they will serve them. Our clients usually initiate their cases by a good mix of service and non-service. It is up to the client and dependent upon the circumstances of the case.