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

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed April 2020

When the defendant lives out of state, serve them the same way you do as if they live in Massachusetts. Find a sheriff, constable, or other person who is not involved in your case and who works where the defendant can be found.

If the defendant lives out of state and you know their home or work address:

  • Search online to find someone to serve the summons. Put the words “process server” and the name of the state or country where the defendant lives.  You should be able find someone who can serve the defendant. Or,
  • Ask your local sheriff's office to help. They might be able help you find a process server where the defendant lives or works.

Send the out-of-state process server:

  1. a copy of the complaint,
  2. the summons,
  3. the Track Assignment Notice,
  4. a copy of the Affidavit Disclosing Care or Custody Proceedings, if you had to file one.
  5. the "Automatic Restraining Order" if the case is a divorce or separate support case.

The process server will:

  1. Give a copy of the summons, complaint, tracking notice, Affidavit Disclosing Care, and the “Automatic Restraining Order" to the defendant in person”
    or
    leave copies of the papers 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. if the process server gave the papers to the defendant in person “by hand”, or
    2. if he 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 process server 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.

Important

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

What if I cannot find someone to serve a Divorce/Separate Support Summons outside Massachusetts?

You can ask the court for an “Order for Alternate Service by Publication and Mailing.” This order allows you to serve the defendant by publishing the summons in the newspaper and mailing it to a last known address. See Service by Publication and Mailing.

What if the process server outside Massachusetts cannot serve a Divorce/Separate Support summons on the defendant?

If the process server outside Massachusetts cannot find the defendant, they should:

  • explain in the Proof of Service what they did to try to find the defendant, and
  • return the summons to you.

You can ask the court for an “Order for Alternate Service by Publication and Mailing.” This order allows you to serve the defendant by publishing the summons in the newspaper and mailing it to a last known address. See Service by Publication and Mailing.

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