If you are serving a divorce application see How do I serve a divorce?

Service is the legal term used to describe the giving or delivering of court documents to another person in a way that satisfies the Court that the person has received them.

Chapter 7 of the Family Law Rules 2004 covers service.

Do I have to serve the documents?

Any application or document filed with the court must be served on all the parties to the proceedings, including the Independent Children's Lawyer if appointed, unless a court order says otherwise. Proof of this service must then be filed with the court.

When do I serve the documents?

You are required to serve the documents after the documents have been filed. If you have eFiled you must print the sealed document for service. If you have filed the documents with a registry you will receive sealed copies back.

Documents must be served as soon as practicable after filing.

Note: Unless the Court orders otherwise, a document may not be served more than 12 months after it is filed. Different time limits apply for serving Subpoenas. See Subpoena below.

Are there any fees?

There are no fees associated with the filing of service documents.

How can I serve the documents?

Different types of court documents need to be served in different ways.

There are two ways to serve family court documents:

  1. Special service (including by hand)
  2. Ordinary service

The Service Kit includes all the forms required for service.

Select the document type or issue below for specific details:

 Applications for consent orders do not have to be served as they have been signed by all parties.

Which documents should be served?

  • Application
  • Affidavit/s or any other supporting documents (if filed)
  • Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence or Risk of Family Violence (if applicable)
  • Financial statement (if applicable)
  • Copy of the Marriage, Families and Separation brochure

The following outlines the methods of special service:

Some documents can only be served by special service by hand, which means that the server must give a copy of the documents to the person to be served.

You may arrange for a process server (for a fee) or any other person who is not a party to the proceedings and who is over the age of 18 years to hand deliver the documents for you. Process servers are listed in the Yellow Pages.

Note: Application - Contravention and Application - Contempt must be served by hand. See Application - Contravention or Contempt below.
What does the person serving the documents by hand have to do?

The person serving the document by hand must identify the person being served and provide a copy of the document to the person served. If the person to be served refuses to take a copy of the document, the person serving it may put it down in the presence of the person to be served and tell the person what it is.

Do not use this method of special service unless you are confident that the other party will sign the Acknowledgment of Service and return it to you.

If you choose to serve by electronic communication, you must include a cover sheet containing the sender's name and address; the name of the person to be served; the date and time of transmission; the total number of pages, including the cover page, transmitted; a statement as follows: 'The purpose of the transmission is for service of court documents'; the name and telephone number of a person to contact if there is a problem with transmission; a return electronic address.

If you attempt service by post, fax or email and the Acknowledgment of Service is not returned to you, your application may be delayed and it may be necessary to arrange for further copies of the documents to be served on the person. If service is by post you must include a stamped self-addressed envelope to enable the signed Acknowledgement of Service to be returned to you.

A document is taken to be served by special service on a person if:

  • a lawyer representing the person agrees, in writing, to accept service of the document for that person, and
  • the document is served on the lawyer and the lawyer acknowledges service.

Proof of service

The court requires proof of service. The Service Kit includes all the forms required for service. See What happens after the documents have been served? below.

Helpful hint - a copy of the prescribed brochure Marriage, Families and Separation must be served with applications filed in family law matters.

The following documents can only be served by special service by hand, which means that the server must give a copy of the documents to the person to be served:

You may arrange for a process server (for a fee) or any other person who is not a party to the proceedings and who is over the age of 18 years to hand deliver the documents for you. Process servers are listed in the Yellow Pages.

What does the person serving the documents by hand have to do?

The person serving the document by hand must identify the person being served and provide a copy of the document to the person served. If the person to be served refuses to take a copy of the document, the person serving it may put it down in the presence of the person to be served and tell the person what it is.

The court requires proof of service. The Service Kit includes all the forms required for service. See What happens after the documents have been served? below.

If a document is not required to be served by special service, it may be served on a person by ordinary service. This means the documents can be served:

  • by all the methods of special service, but you do not need to obtain a signed Acknowledgment of Service from the other party, or
  • at a person's contact address (address for service) in Australia by delivering it, posting it or sending it by electronic communication to that address, or
  • if a person does not have a contact address (address for service), by delivering it, posting it or sending by electronic communication to their last known address.

You will need to prove ordinary service by filing an Affidavit of Service. The Service Kit includes all the forms required for service. See What happens after the documents have been served? below.

There are three different types of subpoena:

  1. a subpoena for production
  2. a subpoena to give evidence (requires attendance at court), and
  3. a subpoena for production and to give evidence.

The rules for service are different for each type of subpoena. If the subpoena is not served correctly (or conduct money is not provided when required) the named person does not have to comply with the subpoena.

See Subpoena: Information for a person requesting the issue of a subpoena for information about subpoena service and requirements for conduct money.

There are special requirements when a document is required to be served by special service on a person with a disability or a prisoner. See r7.09 and r7.10 of the Family Law Rules 2004 for information in relation to service of a person with a disability or in prison.

The document must be served:

  1. on the person’s case guardian
  2. on the person’s guardian appointed under a State or Territory law, or
  3. if there is no one under paragraph (a) or (b) – on an adult who has the care of the person.

Note: the person in charge of a hospital, nursing home or other care facility is taken to have the care of a person who is a patient in the hospital, nursing home or facility.

The document must be served on the person in charge of the prison.

Note: when serving an application, subpoena or notice of appeal on a prisoner, the prisoner must be informed in writing about the requirements to attend court by electronic communication under Rule 5.07 of the Family Law Rules 2004.

The court requires proof of service. The Service Kit includes all the forms required for service. See What happens after the documents have been served? below.

If the respondent is not in Australia the method of service will depend on whether the country is a party to the Hague Convention. See the Attorney-General's Department website for information about serving legal documents across international borders.

Proceedings issued by an Australian court may only be served in New Zealand in accordance with the provisions of the Trans-Tasman Proceedings Act 2010. See Part 2—Service in New Zealand of initiating documents issued by Australian courts and tribunals

You must organise to serve the documents overseas.  If the country is a party to the Hague Convention, service may be possible by arrangement with the Attorney-General's Department. See Part IIAC of the Family Law Regulations 1984 - Service in countries that are parties to conventions other than the Hague Service Convention.

If the country is not a party to the Hague Convention see Part 7.6 of the Family Law Rules 2004 - Service in a non-convention country.

You should obtain legal advice in relation to filing an application to dispense with service or substituted service. See Cannot serve the court documents below for more information.

The court requires proof of service. The Service Kit includes all the forms required for service. See What happens after the documents have been served? below.

If you are unable to effect service in a way required by the court rules, even after you have taken all reasonable steps to, you can apply to the Court for an order for:

  • substituted service (which allows you to serve court documents on a third person who the court is satisfied will bring the court documents to the attention of the person to be served);
    or
  • dispensation of service (which allows the court to dispense with the requirement of service) - please note - dispensation of service will only be granted in exceptional circumstances. See Rule 7.18 of the Family Law Rules 2004.

You will need to take all reasonable steps to serve the documents and refer to these steps in an affidavit supporting your application. If you need help to complete this type of application or are unsure whether you are eligible to file this application you should obtain legal advice. A lawyer can help you understand your rights and responsibilities before you apply.

To apply for an order seeking to dispense with service or for substituted service, you can seek the orders within the application or file an application in a case and a supporting affidavit see below.

How do I file an application in a case seeking an order for substituted service or to dispense with service?

You should eFile the application by completing the online interactive form.

If you have not registered on the portal see How do I register for the Commonwealth Courts Portal. You will also need your file number and client number to link and access your file. If you do not have these numbers contact us by Live Chat and provide your full name, date of birth and the name of the other party. Once you are registered and linked go to step 1.

If you are already registered for the Portal and linked to your file go to step 1.

  1. Select the file number from the Available Files tab or search the file number e.g. ABC1234/2014 at Search for file > then click on the file number to open your file.

  2. Go to Image of the File a new application link 
  3. Select  Image of the Application in a case radio option  then Image of radio button to select the Family Court of Australia then Image of the continue button
  4. Complete Title and Description then Create.
  5. Complete Step 1, Part A, B and C - on completion each Part should show a green tick Image of the green tick 
  6. Complete the Affidavit form, scan and save the documents* on your computer drive where you will be able to find it easily.
  7. Upload the supporting affidavit at Step 2. You can file any further affidavits as an additional document.
  8. Complete Step 3. Statement of Truth and Save.
  9. Submit the application. You can open a preview of the document before you print.

*Use the PDF convertor in the right hand column if you need to convert the document to PDF.

Image showing the Add document, file a response and notify me

Note: An Application in a Case requires the manual allocation of a court date which will be processed within 3 working days. You can log into the portal to check the allocated date at any time. You can also select the envelope button (see above) to be notified by email of any activity on your file.

If for any reason you cannot eFile the application, follow the instructions on the Application in a Case and file it and the supporting affidavit at a family law registry. See Preparing an Affidavit for more information. You should have all your documents signed, witnessed (if required) and photocopied before you file.

If you have applied for substituted service or dispensation of service, you should attend the court hearing.

There is no court fee associated with filing an application in a case seeking an order for substituted service or to dispense with service.

What happens after the documents have been served?

Proof of service must then be filed with the court. The person who served the document/s must complete an Affidavit of Service and have it sworn or affirmed before a person authorised to witness the swearing of affidavits e.g. a lawyer or a JP.

If you are serving documents special service by post or electronically you must include an Acknowledgment of Service for the person being served to sign.

If served by hand the server must include any information or attach any documents to the Affidavit of Service which helped him or her identify the respondent. If the server identified the respondent with a photograph, you should also prepare a further brief affidavit stating that the person in the photograph is the respondent. The service documents must then be filed with the court.

The Service Kit includes all the forms required for service.

See Rule 7.17 of the Family Law Rules 2004 for information on when a document is taken to have been served.

Filing the service documents

You should eFile the service documents on the Commonwealth Courts Portal (see below). Or you can post the completed forms to the family law registry where the application was filed.

How do I eFile the service documents?

  1. Scan the completed Affidavit of Service and Acknowledgment of Service (if required) and save the document on your computer where you will be able to find it easily.
  2. If you have not registered on the portal see How do I register for the Commonwealth Courts Portal. You will also need your file number and client number to link and access your file. If you do not have these numbers contact us by Live Chat and provide your full name, date of birth and the name of the other party. Once you are registered and linked go to step 3. If you are already registered and linked to your file go to step 3.
  3. Select the file number from the Available Files tab or search the file number e.g. ABC1234/2014 at Search for file > then click on the file number to open your file.
  4. Under select Image showing the plus sign at the appropriate application.
  5. Select add document
    Image showing the Add document, file a response and notify me
    You can also select the envelope button to be notified by email of any activity on your file.
  6. Select the appropriate document type at Document Type.
    Select your name to choose who the document is filed on behalf of. 
    Click on Choose File, select the document from where you had saved it at step 1 above - this document must be in PDF format* and under 10 Mb.
    Click on Upload.
    *Use the PDF convertor in the right hand column if you need to convert the document to PDF.

Helpful hints

  • If you are attending the court hearing, take your copy of the service forms with you.
  • You are not required to serve the Affidavit of Service or the Acknowledgement of Service.