Service of Divorce Papers Need Not Be a Surprise

A recent news report alleges that when Dr. Dre’s (also known as Andre Young) wife, Nicole Young, recently filed new documents in their divorce, Dr. Dre was served while at the cemetery burying his grandmother.

Dre and his wife filed for divorce in 2020. His wife is now suing him for payment of her attorney’s fees related to the divorce. It has been reported that Dre paid $325,000; however, the court order reportedly required him to pay more: over $1.5 million of her lawyer fees.

Service of papers at the cemetery may have been an intentional bad faith effort at punishing Dre, directed by his wife; however, it may have been unintentional. The media reports are unclear; however, the fact that personal service was used rather than another service method is a sign of acrimony between the two.

Understanding Service in a Divorce

In any legal case, the defendant must be notified of the case against them. This is accomplished by service: getting the court documents to the person being sued. A case cannot proceed unless the defendant has received notice of the case or every effort has been made to locate the defendant and give notice.

Types of Service

Each state has rules about the way service must be accomplished in a court case. In general, there are several methods, including:

  • Personal service: Having a process server physically hand papers to the defendant or someone at their home or place of business.
  • Service by mail: Mailing the documents in a way that creates a receipt or an actual signature acceptance of the documents.
  • Nail and mail: Leaving the documents at the defendant’s home or place of work, affixed to the door, and also mailing them.
  • Acceptance of service: The defendant’s attorney indicates they are willing to accept service for the defendant. Here, documents can be sent, and the attorney completes a form stating they have received them. The defendant can also accept service by completing a similar form.
  • Service by publication: If the defendant cannot be located, the plaintiff can ask the court to allow them to publish the notice in a newspaper (chosen by the court) and have that suffice as legal notice.

No matter the method used, proof of service must be filed with the court. For personal service or nail and mail, an affidavit by the process service is required. For mailed service, the postal receipt must be included with an affidavit. For acceptance of service, the form signed by the attorney or individual must be filed. If service is by publication, proof of the publication must be submitted to the court.

New York Rules About Personal Service

The plaintiff has 120 days to serve divorce papers in New York. Your attorney will likely handle this for you, but it is useful to understand what the options are. New York law allows service via the following methods:

  • Personal service: A disinterested person over the age of 18 (not someone involved in the case or related to either party) can personally serve the papers. In some areas of the state, process servers must have a license. Sheriffs can be used in some areas to serve the papers.
  • Waiver of service: The defendant’s attorney or the defendant can waive formal service and accept the papers by signing a document accepting them.

Note that in New York, personal service and waiver of service are the only acceptable methods of service for a divorce. If personal service or acceptance of service cannot be accomplished, the plaintiff must file an affidavit of attempted service explaining what efforts have been made and seeking the court’s permission to use another method. Those alternate methods can include:

  • Service by mail: First-class mail can be used for service if the court orders this.
  • Service by publication: The court can direct publication of the notice in a newspaper designated by the court.
  • Alternate service: The court may direct any other kind of service it finds appropriate in the case.

What Personal Service May Mean in the Dr. Dre Case

Personal service in a high-profile divorce is a clear attempt to make a statement or provoke the other party. It is the norm for those in the public eye to arrange for acceptance of service, usually to an attorney, to avoid the public spectacle of service of process. It is also generally difficult to personally serve a public individual who likely has an inaccessible home and may be surrounded by security or employees, making access difficult.

Furthermore, personal service makes a public statement that basic civility is lacking in the case. Otherwise, acceptance of service would be arranged. Personal service indicates that either the defendant has been unwilling to agree to service or that the plaintiff has chosen not to offer that courtesy to the defendant. Either scenario shows that at least one party has chosen to make things difficult for the other.

Personal service in a divorce case is a sign that things are complicated. Personal service at a funeral, likely directed by the plaintiff who has knowledge of the location and time of the funeral, is an incredibly aggressive tactic likely intended to emotionally wound the other party. There is no way to know the facts in the Dr. Dre case; however, the situation provides an excellent example of why your attorney should allow for waiver of service to keep your case out of the public eye.


Dror Bikel

Dror Bikel co-founded Bikel Rosenthal & Schanfield, New York’s best known firm for high-conflict matrimonial disputes. A New York Superlawyer℠ and twice recognized (2020 and 2021) New York Divorce Trial Lawyer of the Year, Dror’s reputation as a fearsome advocate in difficult custody and divorce disputes has led him to deliver solid outcomes in some of New York’s most complex family law trials. Attorney Bikel is a frequent commentator on high profile divorces for national and international media outlets. His book The 1% Divorce - When Titans Clash was a 5-category Amazon bestseller.

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