Serving Child Support Papers: Who Serves & More

Serving papers to the other person in your child support case is a necessary step in the legal process.

Since a custodial parent or a guardian usually opens the case, child support papers are typically served to a noncustodial parent or another custodial parent. This person is considered the respondent or defendant in the case, whereas the person who opened the case is called the applicant or petitioner.

Be aware that there are slightly different child support rules in each U.S. state.

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

Calculate My Parenting Time Now

Who serves child support papers?

The person who opens the case generally isn't permitted to serve child support papers but must instead ask someone not involved in the case to do so. The server must be at least 18 years old and can't be related to anyone in the case.

In certain situations, though, the applicant may be allowed to serve — for example, if the respondent signs a form agreeing to waive their right to formal service.

Usually, your surest option for serving is to hire a sheriff's office or a professional process server. Paying their fee can be worth it because you know they'll serve correctly. However, there's often no barrier to having papers served by an ordinary person, like a friend.

Does a sheriff serve child support papers?

Most sheriff's offices in the U.S. serve child support papers. Contact the office that oversees the respondent's county. You'll need to fill out a form and pay a fee (usually no more than $50).

The sheriff (or, more likely, a sheriff's deputy) will go to the address you provide and try to hand the papers to the respondent. They can also help locate a respondent whose whereabouts are unknown, though this may cost extra.

Should I use a professional process server?

Relying on the sheriff's department can drag a child support case if the department is too busy. Hiring a professional can speed things up, though it's usually your most expensive option.

Process servers are professionals that must have a certification valid in the county where the service takes place (typically the respondent's home).

They are trained to use tools and techniques to find respondents who are avoiding their child support obligations and to serve them legal papers without breaking the law.

Professional process servers typically change between $20 and $100. The price depends on how quickly you need service done and whether you need the respondent located.

How are child support papers served?

Usually, papers must be handed directly to the respondent. This can happen anywhere: at their home, office, etc.

The respondent does not have to agree to accept the papers but should be made aware of what's handed to them.

In some states, child support papers can be served to an adult who lives with the respondent. And sometimes, papers can be served through U.S. mail.

How long does it take to serve child support papers?

Serving documents in family law cases can take anywhere from a few days to more than six months.

Sometimes service takes a long time because of complicated procedures, but delays are usually due to difficulty finding the respondent. That's why it's important to provide as much information about their location as possible.

If you know where the respondent lives, service should only take a few days from when you arrange a server.

The court or child support agency can set a deadline by which the child support papers must be served (or the deadline may be set by law). If you miss the deadline, you might be able to get an extension or you may have to start the case over.

How long do I have to respond to served child support papers?

The papers you're served with should say how long you have to respond. If they don't, call the court or agency listed on the documents and ask for the deadline. If you fail to respond on time, the case can proceed without your involvement.

Unless you claim you're not obligated to support the child (e.g., because you're not their parent), your response will need to include financial information.

Showing evidence that the papers have been served

After the papers have been served, the server must fill out a form as proof. Sometimes they give it to the person who hired them; sometimes they give it to the court or child support agency involved.

Either way, make sure that the proof of service gets filed with your court or agency on time so that your case can proceed.

Avoiding being served child support papers

If the respondent can't be found or is evading service, you can file a motion with the court asking to serve papers via an alternate method.

Often this method is publishing a notice in a newspaper, i.e., service by publication. Or the court may allow you to serve through email, text message or even social media.

In some states, like Georgia and North Carolina, an applicant can ask the child support agency for help finding the respondent.

Technically, avoiding service is not illegal. But it often backfires because it prevents the respondent from getting a say in the case. Your best bet as the respondent is to participate in the case and try to get a fair child support payment.

Getting an accurate child support order

The best way to ensure a fair child support payment is to provide accurate information about your income and your parenting time.

Most states factor parenting time into their child support calculations. Use the Custody X Change app to calculate your time with your child precisely.

Estimating your parenting time can impact your support order by thousands of dollars a year, so make sure your calculation is exact. The number will affect you, your child and the other parent for years to come.

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

Calculate My Parenting Time Now

Explore examples of common schedules

Explore common schedules

Join the 60,000+ other parents who have used our co-parenting tools

Organize your evidence

Track your expenses, journal what happens, and record actual time. Print organized, professional documents.

Co-parent civilly

Our parent-to-parent messaging system, which detects hostile language, lets you collaborate without the drama.

Get an accurate child support order

Child support is based on parenting time or overnights in most jurisdictions. Calculate time instead of estimating.

Succeed by negotiating

Explore options together with visual calendars and detailed parenting plans. Present alternatives and reach agreement.

Never forget an exchange or activity

Get push notifications and email reminders, sync with other calendar apps and share with the other parent.

Save up to $50,000 by avoiding court

Write your parenting agreement without lawyers. Our templates walk you through each step.

Calculate My Time



Long distance schedules

Third party schedules


Summer break

Parenting provisions


How to make a schedule

Factors to consider

Parenting plans:

Making a parenting plan

Changing your plan

Interstate, long distance

Temporary plans

Guides by location:

Parenting plans

Scheduling guidelines

Child support calculators

Age guidelines:

Birth to 18 months

18 months to 3 years

3 to 5 years

5 to 13 years

13 to 18 years


Joint physical custody

Sole physical custody

Joint legal custody

Sole legal custody

Product features:

Software overview

Printable calendars

Parenting plan templates

Journal what happens

Expense sharing

Parenting time tracking

Calculate time & overnights

Ways to use:

Succeed by negotiating

Prepare for mediation

Get ready for court


Bring calm to co‑parenting. Agree on a schedule and plan. Be prepared with everything documented.

Calculate My Parenting Time Now

No thanks, I don't need a parenting plan