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How do I serve a Divorce/Separate Support summons in Massachusetts?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed March 2022

You have 90 days after you file the complaint to serve a Divorce / Separate Support summons.

The Divorce/Separate Support Summons is for divorce and separate support cases only.

Find your local sheriff or constable and give them:

  1. a copy of the complaint,
  2. the summons,
  3. the Track Assignment Notice,
  4. the approved Affidavit of Indigency, if you have one. The Affidavit of Indigency tells the sheriff or constable that the state will pay their fees.
  5. a copy of the Affidavit Disclosing Care or Custody Proceedings, if you had to file one.
  6. the "Automatic Restraining Order."

The sheriff or constable will:

  1. give a copy of the summons, complaint, tracking notice, Automatic Restraining Order, and Affidavit Disclosing Care to the defendant in person.
  2. fill out the section of the summons that says “Proof of Service.” The Proof of Service on the summons tells the court the sheriff gave the papers to the defendant.
  3. sign the Proof of Service.
  4. give the Proof of Service to you or send it back to the court.

If the sheriff gives you the proof of service, make a copy of the Proof of Service and give the original to the court, right away.

Returning the original summons with Proof of Service is called “return of service.” Check with the sheriff to see if he will file return of service for you or if you must file it with the court yourself.


It is your responsibility to make sure the original summons with Proof of Service is filed.

What if the sheriff cannot find the defendant?

The sheriff will explain what they did to try to find the defendant on the Proof of Service.

You then need to file a motion to ask the court to serve by publication and mailing.

See Alternate Service of Divorce/Separate Support Summons.

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