Ask the County Law Librarian: Serving Divorce Papers on Incarcerated Spouse
Q. I filed divorce papers months ago. We don’t have kids. When I served my husband, I found out he doesn’t live at his address any more. It turns out he’s now in jail. I’m not sure what to do next and I don’t have copies of my paperwork any more. How do I finish up my divorce? Anne
A. Dear Anne,
Unfortunately it sounds like you still have a lot of work to do to get the divorce done. Before you can really get started, you will need to get your husband served. And before you can do that, you will need copies of your paperwork.
You can get copies of all the paperwork you have filed by visiting the courthouse where you filed them. In Sacramento, for family law cases, that is the William R. Ridgeway Family Relations Courthouse (3341 Power Inn Road). You will need to serve him with:
- A copy of ALL the papers you filed with the court (except for any fee waiver papers you may have filed — these are confidential).
- A blank Response — Marriage (Form FL-120)
- If you had kids, you would also need to serve a blank Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (Form FL-105/GC-120).
- Declaration of Disclosure (Form FL-140) – you must serve this within 60 days, so if you can, it will save time to serve it now.
Luckily, if he’s incarcerated in California, he should be relatively easy to find and serve. If he is in a county jail, call the county sheriff to find the phone number and address. If he is in state prison, you can find him using the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Inmate Locator. If he’s in federal prison, use the Federal Bureau of Prison’s Inmate Locator database.
Once you know where he is located, call the facility and ask who on their staff is assigned to serve the documents on prisoners. Send the following to that person:
- two copies of all documents
- the Proof of Service form
- a self-addressed stamped envelope
- a cover letter asking that your husband be personally served and that the “Proof of Service” be completed and sent back to you.
If you have a hearing date (unlikely this early in the case), tell them the date, department, and time of the hearing.
Once they serve your husband, they will return the signed Proof of Service in the self-addressed stamped envelope, and you can file it in court.
After that, your next step depends on what your husband does. Once he’s served, he has 30 days to file a written response. If he does not, you can ask the court for a default judgment. If he does, the process is a bit different.
You can find out more by using the excellent California Courts Self-Help site’s divorce section. It has step-by-step instructions for each phase of the case, and links to the forms you will need. You may also be interested in the self-help book How to Do Your Own Divorce in California, which has instructions, samples, and related information about the process.
Best of luck!
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