Ask to serve by publication or posting

If you can’t serve your spouse, domestic partner, or your child’s other parent with the court papers (like a Summons and Petition or other document) because you don’t know where they are, you can ask the court for permission to serve your papers by publication or posting.

Before you start

Generally, you can only ask to serve by publication

Serve by publication means you must pay a newspaper to publish your court papers. 

  • You publish the court papers in a newspaper of general circulation in the area where the person you have to serve is likely to be. Call the court in that area to find out if they have a list of newspapers you can use.
  • You will have to pay to publish the court papers. The cost varies a lot from newspaper to newspaper, so call the newspapers to find out the cost. 
  • The court papers must be published once a week, for 4 weeks in a row.

If you have a fee waiver, you can ask to serve by posting instead

Serving by posting means that your server (sometimes a court clerk) posts the court paper in a special place at the courthouse for posting notices. To serve by posting, you must qualify for a court fee waiver. If you don't have one, you can ask for a fee waiver.

How to ask to serve by publication or posting

  • Try to find the other person

    You will have to make a real effort to find the other person. You can’t just say you don’t know where they are. The judge will want to see that you really tried to find them.  Different courts may require different steps but, in general, they are all the same. As you try each of these, write down the dates and results of your efforts.

    Your court’s Self-Help Center or Family Law Facilitator may have a fill-in-the-blank form you can use to describe your search results.

    Tips to help you find someone

  • Fill out request form

    • Application for Order for Publication or Posting (form FL-980)

    Use this form to tell the judge what you did to try to find the person and ask the judge for permission to serve the court papers by publication or posting. You can attach sheets of paper or use a Declaration (form MC-030) to give more detail about everything you tried to find the person and what the result was.

    If you are asking to serve by publication, you will need to write in the name of the newspaper before you turn in the form.

    If you are asking to serve by posting, you must have a fee waiver. If you don't, you can ask for one at the same time. 

  • Fill out top part of order form

    You only have to fill out:

    • The top box with your name, address, and phone number
    • The names of the Petitioner and the Respondent
    • The case number (if you have one)

    Then check the box for publication or for posting, depending on what you’re asking the judge for. The rest of the form will be filled out by the judge.

  • Make copies

    Make 1 copy of Form FL-980 and any attachments.

    You do not need to make copies of Form FL-982 to give to the court clerk.

  • File your forms

    Take your forms  to the court clerk.

    Give the court clerk the original and copy of your form FL-980 and the original of the FL-982.  The clerk will stamp the forms, keep the original, and return the copy of the FL-980 to you.

    Ask the clerk when you should return to find out the judge's decision.

    The clerk will then give the original Application and proposed Order to the judge for review. The judge will make a decision on your request and sign an Order.

    Once the judge decides, you will need to get a copy of the signed Order. It will have information on it you need to take your next steps.

    Yes, you can file by mail. Mail the original and copy to the clerk. You need to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope so the clerk can mail your copies back to you. If you do not include a self-addressed stamped envelope with the correct amount of postage you will have to go to the courthouse to pick up your copies. 
    Some courts allow online filing. You can find out if your court has online filing by visiting your court’s website. 

Serve by publication or posting

What's next?

If the judge decides that the court papers can be served by publication or posting, your next step is to have the papers published or posted. You must serve the way the judge ordered. 

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