Alternate Service of Divorce/Separate Support Summons

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed September 2020

If the sheriff could not serve the defendant with a Divorce /Separate Support Summons in person or if you do not know where the Defendant lives, ask the court for an order for Alternate Service by Publication and Mailing. This order tells you to:

  • publish the summons in the newspaper, and
  • mail the summons and complaint to the defendant at the last address you have for him or her.

The Probate and Family courts across Massachusetts do not all use the same forms. Ask the clerk at the court where you filed your which form you should use:

  • The Motion for Service by Alternate Means and Affidavit of Diligent Search is 1 form. or
  • The Motion for Alternate Service by Publication and Mailing and the Affidavit in Support of Motion for Alternate Service are 2 different forms you need to file together.

We have examples of each of these to look at as you follow the directions below to fill them out:

Step by step instructions to serve by publication and mailing

  1. Call the clerk at the court that is hearing your case.
    1. Use the Courthouse Locator to find the phone number.
    2. Ask the clerk which form you should use to serve the defendant you have been unable to serve in any other way.
  2. Find a newspaper in the area where the defendant last lived
    1. Call the newspaper and ask for the Legal Notices Department.
    2. Ask the Legal Notices Department if they publish Divorce/Separate Support Summonses.
    3. Ask them how much they charge to publish the summons.
    4. What you need to do to get a copy of the page that has the summons on it.
  3. Fill out the form the clerk told you to use.
    1. At the top where it says
      1. “Division”, put the name of the court where you filed your complaint
      2. “Docket No.”, put the docket number that is on the Divorce/Separate Support Summons
      3. “Plaintiff/Petitioner”, put your name
      4. “Defendant/Respondent”, put the defendant’s name
    2. If you are using the Motion for Alternate Service by Publication and Mailing, after the words “Now comes”, put your name.
    3. After the words “allow alternate service by publication and mailing to last known address”, put the last address you have for the person you need to serve. If you do not know where they are now, also put “now of parts unknown.”
    4. After the words “Name and address of newspaper for area where defendant last lived”, put the name and address of a newspaper in the area where the defendant last lived.
  4. If you are using the Motion for Alternate Service, Affidavit in Support of Motion for Alternate Service
    1. Explain in the affidavit what you did to try to serve the defendant in person and why you were not able to. For example:
      • You do not know where the defendant lives.
      • You gave the last address you have to the sheriff.
      • You could not find someone to serve the defendant.
      • What you did to find the defendant’s home address.
      • What you did to find another address where the defendant might be served, like a work address.
  5. If you cannot afford the cost of publishing the summons, fill out an Affidavit of Indigency.
    1. On the 2nd page of the Affidavit of Indigency, go to SECTION 2 and check the 4th box.
    2. Where it says “Other fees or costs of $” put the amount that the newspaper charges to publish the summons, and
    3. where it says “for (specify)” write “publishing the summons in the newspaper.”
  6. File the forms:

    You can mail the Motion and the Affidavit in Support to the court. If you are filing an Affidavit of Indigency, it is better to go to the court and give the papers to the clerk.

  7. The court will mail you its decision.
  8. If the judge decides that you can serve by publication and mailing you will get

    mediation icon courtesy of graphicadvocacy.org

    1. An Order for Service by Publication that orders:
      1. the defendant to respond to the complaint by the “return date”;
      2. that the court will schedule a hearing and make a decision even if defendant does not respond or show up;
      3. that the summons be published once in the newspaper named in the order;
      4. how many days before the “return date” the summons must be published; and
      5. that the summons be mailed to the last known address of the defendant by registered or certified mail.
    2. A Summons by Publication
  9. As soon as you get the Order from the court
    1. Mail to the defendant’s last known address a copyof:
      1. the Summons by Publication, and
      2. the Complaint you filed.

      Mail by registered or certified mail, “return receipt requested.”

    2. Mail the Legal Notice Department at the newspaper a copy of
      • the Order for Service by Publication and
      • the Summons by Publication
    3. If the court approved your Affidavit of Indigency, ask the Legal Notice Department at the newspaper what you need to do so they get paid.
  10. When the newspaper publishes the summons, get the page that has the summons on it. It has to be the whole page.  It has to have the date and the name of the newspaper on it.
  11. After the post office sends you
    • the green return receipt with the defendant’s signature on it, or
    • the returned unopened envelope with the green receipt card attached,

    fill out and sign the RETURN OF SERVICE at the bottom of the Order for Service by Publication.

  12. Go to the court and give the clerk:
    • the Order for Service by Publication with your signed RETURN OF SERVICE at the bottom;
    • the full dated page of the newspaper with the publication of the summons
    • the green return receipt with the defendant’s signature on it, or the returned unopened envelope with the green receipt card attached

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