Want to share what you like about MassLegalHelp with us?


How do I serve a Domestic Relations Summons?

Produced by Attorney Jeffrey L. Wolf for MassLegalHelp
Reviewed February 2020

You have 90 days after you file the complaint to serve a Domestic Relations Summons.

The Domestic Relations Summons is for

  • Complaints to Establish Paternity
  • Complaints for Support-Custody-Parenting Time for unmarried parents
  • Complaints for support of a spouse or a child of married parents
  • Complaints for Modification
Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed March 2020


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.

The sheriff or constable will:

  1. give a copy of the summons, complaint, tracking notice, and Affidavit Disclosing Care to the defendant in person or
    leave a copy of the summons and the complaint at the defendant’s last known address and mail copies to the defendant by certified mail “return receipt requested.”
  2. fill out the section of the summons that says “Proof of Service.” The Proof of Service on the summons tells the court if
    1. the sheriff gave the papers to the defendant in person “by hand” or
    2. they mailed the summons to the defendant and also left it at the defendant’s last known address
  3. sign the Proof of Service and
  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 they 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 defendant lives outside Massachusetts?

See How do I serve the summons if the defendant does not live in Massachusetts?

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

Ask a Law Librarian

If it's
9am - 12pm and 1pm - 4pm