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Serving the Defendant in Probate and Family Court

Produced by Attorney Jeffrey L. Wolf for MassLegalHelp
Last Updated June 2015

After you file a complaint at the Probate and Family Court, you have to “serve” the person you are taking to court.

Serving is the formal way to tell another person you are taking him or her to court. That person is called the “defendant.” 

When you file a case, the clerk gives you a Track Assignment Notice and a summons to serve on the defendant.

The Track Assignment Notice tells you:

  • You have to serve the defendant,
  • The number of days you have to serve the defendant,
  • you need to return proof of service,
  • If you do not serve defendant the judge may dismiss your case, and
  • The most time that should go by before the case goes to trial, is settled, or dismissed.

The summons tells the defendant:

  1. you have started a case,
  2. what the case is about,
  3. the number of days the defendant has to answer, and
  4. if the defendant does not answer, there will still be a hearing and the judge will make a decision. The court will not wait for the defendant to answer.

The Probate and Family Court uses 3 different summons forms.

They are:

Divorce/Separate Support Summons

Domestic Relations Summons

Contempt Summons.

Each summons is for a different kind of case and has different rules for serving.

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