Questions about serving family court documents
- What is service? What is serving documents?
This is the process of giving a copy of the documents in your family case to the other party.
- What is personal service?
It’s when the person who gives a copy of the documents does it in‑person and by hand-delivering a copy to the other party or their lawyer.
- How do I serve documents to someone I’m worried will hurt me?
You can ask the court staff to arrange for your documents to be served. This is a free service.
- Why do I have to serve?
To be fair. Except in rare exceptions, a judge shouldn’t see any document in a case unless all the parties in the case have also seen it.
- What if it is too dangerous to serve?
You don’t have to be present. There are several things you can do to reduce the risk. Speak to your local domestic violence shelter, and to a lawyer, for suggestions.
In rare cases where notifying someone of the court case will put someone else, such as the children, in immediate risk, the court may agree to make a temporary order before the service is done.
- Can I be present when they are served?
Yes. If your documents need “special service” you can’t be the person doing the service, but you can be there.
- What if I don’t know anyone willing to do the service for me?
You can hire someone to do it. They are called process servers. If you go to Canada 411 you can find process servers in your area.
- How old do you have to be to serve?
18 or older.
- Can you serve on a weekend?
Yes, but remember that when counting time, weekends are not counted for periods less than seven days.
So, if you had to serve someone at least five days before court, and you served them on a Saturday, neither the Saturday nor the Sunday would count. The five days have to be days when courts are normally open.
- Can you serve at night?
Yes, but remember that if you serve after 4 p.m., it is counted as if you served them the next day.
- Can you mail the documents?
Yes, unless it is a document that requires “special service.”
If it is “special service,” you can still mail the documents, but they will not be considered served unless the person returns a completed Form 6: Acknowledgment of Service to you or to the court, in which they agree that they received the documents.
- What about Express Post? Is that considered “service by courier?”
It may be considered a courier service, but only if it is guaranteed same or next day delivery.
- What is a “document exchange?”
There are specialized services and websites for the exchange of documents, but generally, these require both parties to be registered members, and they are mostly used by legal professionals.
- If I am serving by mail, should I make it registered mail?
No. If you are allowed to serve by mail you should send it by regular mail. The court will assume it has been delivered. If you send by registered mail, it will not be delivered unless the person signs for it. If they do sign, you will have proof, but if they don’t sign you will need to serve it again.
- Can I send the court documents by Facebook Messenger? Does that count as email?
No, you can’t serve by Facebook Messenger or by text or any other electronic means other than a direct email, unless the court has given permission.
- What if the other party won’t open the door?
Keep a record of your attempts to serve the documents and you can try to serve at different times and different locations. If the person is persistently avoiding service you may need to bring a Motion for Substituted Service, asking a judge for permission to leave the documents with a relative of the other party or mailing them to the other party’s work place.
- What if the other party drops the documents or throws them back at me?
The documents are served if you have delivered them into the other party’s possession and they are aware that they have them. What they chose to do with them after that does not affect the service.
- What if they don’t accept the documents?
The other person does not have to agree to accept the documents or agree to be served. The documents have to be delivered into the other party’s possession and they have to be aware that they have them. If they persistently evade service you may need to bring a Motion for Substituted Service, asking a judge for permission to leave the documents with a relative of the other party or mailing them to the other party’s work place.
- What if someone else answers the door?
You should try to ensure that they are given to the person who is being served.
You can leave them with another person but only under strict conditions. It must be the usual home of the person being served. The person they are left with must be an adult who lives there, not merely a visitor, and the server has to get their name, and see their ID with that address on it.
The documents must be in an envelope clearly addressed to the person being served. And that day or the next, a second copy must be mailed to the person being served, at that same address. Unless all of those conditions are met, it will not count as service.
- Can I leave the documents in the mailbox or tape them to the door?
- What if I need to serve an organization?
If the “person” you need to serve is a corporation, you can leave the documents with a person at the place of business who appears to be a manager. If you need to serve the Children’s Aid Society, you can give the documents to any employee of the Society.
- What if I don’t know where the other party lives?
You may be able to serve the other party at another location, such as their workplace, or a place where they often visit. If you cannot locate them, you should make inquiries, including asking people who might know, and doing internet searches, and keep a record of your attempts.
You may need to bring a Motion for Substituted Service, asking a judge for permission to leave the documents with a relative of the other party or mailing them to the other party’s work place.
- Can I just email the documents to the other party?
Unless the documents require “special service,” you can serve by email, but there are special rules. You need the permission of the court or of the other party, and you will need to file the email along with your Form 6B: Affidavit of Service.
Your message has to include the name of the person you are serving, the title of the document you are sending, the date and time of the email, and the name and phone number of the person they should contact if there are transmission problems.
- What do I do first?
First, put together a copy of what needs to be served and make a list of those documents. Determine who needs to be served and the deadline to have it done. Then, determine whether it needs to be special service or if you can use regular service.
- When do I need to serve the documents?
There are different rules depending on what the documents are, and on what will be happening at a court date.
You have to serve before you file the documents, and there are filing deadlines, such as filing a Case Conference Brief at least eight days before the Case Conference, or filing an Application before the First Appearance date.
These deadlines are in the Family Law Rules, or a judge may have set specific deadlines for your case.
- Why did I have to pay a process server to serve them, but these papers just showed up in the mail?
There are special rules for the first documents that start a case or could lead to jail. Once the case has been started, all the parties can use regular service, which includes mail.
- Can I serve the other party at work?
Yes, if the place of work is open to the public. If you are asked to leave, you will have to comply. If you are serving by mail, it needs to be to their home, not workplace, unless they have agreed or the court has given permission.
- Do I have to touch the person with the documents?
- Does the person being served have to show ID?
No, but the person serving, who is known as the “server,” needs to know they are serving the right person. The person could be identified to them by you, or they may know them already, or they may ask them their name before they serve them.
- Does the person doing the service have to give their name to the person they are serving?
No, but their name will be on Form 6B: Affidavit of Service, which will be filed, and which can be seen by the person who was served.
- If I can’t do the service directly, can I still be present?
Yes, but remember that you want the service to be as non‑confrontational as possible.
- Can the police serve this for me?
No. Family law is about disputes within families, not between families and the government, and it is not the responsibility of the police to serve documents.
If you are concerned about your safety or that of the server, you may want to notify the police ahead of time, and they may be able to be present or to suggest safer alternatives.
- What is a process server?
A process server is someone who can be hired to serve documents for other people. Their prices vary, and most will charge you each time they try to serve someone, even if they aren’t successful.
A process server should provide you with a Form 6B: Affidavit of Service if they are successful, or an Affidavit of Attempted Service, if they were not.
- How do I find a process server?
To find a local process server, visit Canada 411 and search for “process server.”
- Can I ask one of my children to serve them?
Yes, if they are over 18. But keep in mind that you want the service to be as non‑confrontational as possible. Choose your server with that in mind.
- Can my current spouse serve my former spouse?
Yes, but always keep in mind that you want the service to be as non-confrontational as possible. Choose your server with that in mind.
- How do I serve someone who is in jail?
Speak to the jail.
You may be able to arrange for your server to meet with the person and give them the documents, after a guard has checked them over. A process server in the area where the jail is located may have experience with these types of service.
If this cannot be done, you may need to bring a Motion for Substituted Service, such as permission to mail the documents or to give them someone in authority there.
- How do I serve someone who is in hospital?
Check with the hospital to see if there are any restrictions on visitors. If “special service” is required, and the person is not allowed visitors, you will need to do a Motion for Substituted Service, asking a judge for permission to leave the documents with a relative of the other party or mailing them to the other party’s work place.
Otherwise, the documents can be delivered by the server during regular visiting hours if the person being served is conscious and is able to understand that they are being served documents.
- What if I know the other party doesn’t live on the address on their documents?
If you are responding to a case, and the other party has given an address on their documents, you are entitled to mail your papers to that address, even if you know they don’t live there.
- Who do I serve?
You may need to get legal advice about this.
Usually when you want to file a document, you first need to serve a copy to all the “parties” in the case. They are listed in the boxes on the first page.
Sometimes there are additional people who need to be served. If you are asking for an order to make someone else do something, they will need to be notified.
As an example, if you are asking for disclosure of records, the person or organization who has the records will need to be notified by being served with the documents that make the request. If the person to be served has a lawyer who has appeared in court for them “on record” or who has put their name on the court documents, you serve the lawyer rather than the person.
- What if the person I need to serve doesn’t live in Canada?
If you serve them while they are in Canada, even if they don’t usually live here, you follow the usual rules.
If you are serving them outside Canada you have to follow not only Ontario law, but also International Law, which is called the Hague Service Convention.
If the other party lives in one of the countries listed in the Hague Service Convention then you can serve them through the Central Authority in Canada. If the other party doesn’t live in a country on that list, you can use the same rules you would use in Ontario.
What you need to do depends on the county where the service will occur, so you should get legal advice first.
- What is “special service”?
Special service is when you give a copy of the documents to start a family case or a copy of documents that could lead to the other party going to jail. You can give it directly to the person you’re serving or their lawyer by doing it either in-person or mailing it. For more details on special service, see sub‑rule 6(3).
- Can I serve documents?
Yes, except for these documents: applications, motions to change, and any document that could lead to the other party going to jail. You’ll have to get someone else to serve those specific documents for you.
- If I can’t serve documents, who can?
You can ask either a friend or a family member as long as they are 18 or older. If you don’t have someone who can serve a document, you can hire a process server. You can find one through Canada 411.
- Where do I find the timelines, limits and options for serving court documents?
Rule 6 of the Family Law Rules.
- What is an affidavit of service?
It’s proof that you gave a copy of all the documents to the other party.
- When do I get my first court date?
After you’ve filed your application to start a family court case, the answer and reply, and the affidavit of service have been filed with the court.
- What is a continuing record?
It’s your family law court file that contains every document that you and the other party want the court to look at.
- What happens if it’s hard to serve the other party because they’re avoiding it or you can’t find them?
If you have a lawyer, talk to them. If you don’t, ask court staff for help.
Serving court documents or “service” is when you give a copy of all the documents in your case to the other person in your case, who is known as the other party. You have to serve your documents to the other party because that person has a right to: know about a case that has…