You’ve Been Served: Understanding Service and Its Meaning

Clients report that being served with a divorce summons is one of the most upsetting stages of divorce.  In Massachusetts, the service must be in-hand service, which means that the service processor cannot leave it for you at your residence.  Instead, the sheriff or constable must find you at your house, at your work, or potentially at a relative’s friends and serve it to you personally.  Your neighbors, colleagues, and relatives might witness the service, which might cause humiliation, concern, and anger. 

It is important for clients to realize that service is not necessarily a scary thing.  It is required by law, and thus you should not understand it as one more example of your spouse’s insensitivity.  Your spouse is merely following the legal requirements in order to initiate the divorce proceeding. 

Many clients are alarmed that their spouse initiated the proceeding, rendering the spouse the plaintiff.  Generally, this should not be a point of worry.  Unlike a criminal proceeding, where only the defendant can go to jail, in a divorce it is not necessarily bad to be the defendant.  You should speak to your attorney about whether or not you want to file a counter-complaint, in which you can identify your own grounds for the divorce.  You should also strategize with your attorney about how to use your position as the defendant to help you present evidence at trial, since the plaintiff introduces his or her case before the defendant.