The problem of serving someone in prison is understandable. Many who are filing for divorce, or other legal matters, or who are filing for a change to an existing court order may not know where to start. First, you would need to know in which facility the person is located. He/she may be incarcerated in a county jail, a state prison or a federal prison.

If the person is in a county jail, you can call a county sheriff to find the address & phone number of the facility. However, if the person is in a state prison, then you can search online for the ‘California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation Inmate Locator’ and use the person’s full name. Alternatively, if the person is in a federal prison, you can search online for the ‘Federal Bureau of Prison’s Inmate Locator’. Once you find the correct facility you will want to get the address and phone number as well as the name of the person assigned to serve documents on prisoners. You will also want to know for how long the person will be incarcerated.

Once you have determined the location of the person to be served, you are ready to file the documents in the court and, once filed, you can prepare the service packet. The service packet will then be sent to the designated person at the facility. Once served, you should receive a ‘proof of service’ within a short period of time.

The Proof of Service is an essential part of any Family Law matter and must be filed with the court when a Divorce, Legal Separation, Annulment, Paternity Action or changes to existing orders for custody, visitation and support of children have been filed. The ‘proof of service’ is formal notification that a petition or request for order has been filed.
Once the person is served, he/she has 30 days to respond. Often, the person served does not respond and a ‘default’ is entered. However, if a response is filed then the action is contested. The respondent may respond because a release from prison is imminent and he/she wants to address the issues. However, sometimes the respondent responds even when he/she will be incarcerated for a very long period of time. A consultation with the Attorney will help make clear your best options in either case.
For more information on serving someone while incarcerated and for other Family Law issues, please call Legal Action Workshop @ 1-800-HELP-444 (1-800-435-7444) or visit our website .

Reader Interactions


  1. Hernan Munoz says

    I would like to serve a company in Glendale California and return a letter debt in service to the civil court of New York. How much I have to pay?

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      I’m sorry but we cannot help with this matter. We are not a process serving company…we are a law firm. I would suggest finding a process server from Google etc.
      Hope this helps!

  2. Naty says


    I need to serve a restraining order on an inmate, can this be done in person at the county jail where he is detained at?

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      Yes, it usually can. The best thing to do is to call the facility and ask them how service can be made. Jails may have different protocols.
      Hope this helps!

    • Darren Chaker says

      By Darren Chaker : Yes, you can serve papers at the jail or prison. See Penal Code, § 4013: Service directed to a person who is incarcerated within any institution in this state may be served by any person who may lawfully serve process.

  3. louise says

    I am trying to serve papers on a federal inmate. After sending them in the normal manner to the prison, I received the letter back which said a federal inmate must be served by the Feds. Any suggestion on how to do this?

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      Is this for divorce papers? It’s best to call the prison and speak to the authorities there as to how to do this. Typically the petition is sent to a specific address and room in the facility and then they give the docs to the inmate. If you are serving some other kind of paperwork, the procedure may be different.
      Hope this helps!

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      If he is cooperative then you may serve by mail. If you feel he will not sign the ‘proof of service’ then you may wish to serve by process server or other adult (not a child of the marriage). If he is in prison then you will have to contact the facility to find out how to serve. Hope this helps! If you have further questions, please call us @ 818-630-5503.
      Thank-you for contacting Legal Action Workshop!

  4. Marissa says

    My boyfriend is in jail and due to get out on the 16. He was served child support from a different county while In Jail. Will he have to serve time while waiting on his child support court date or will he be able to get out then go the wake county?

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      Usually when a person is served with a child support order the child support office is asking for verification of income. The office may be serving him for another reason. It’s best that your boyfriend call the support office to let them know when he is getting out of jail.
      Hope this helps!

  5. NINA says

    I was told the inmate was still incarcerated although the Federal link shows this person was released her children tell us she is still incarcerated but the HEPA act might be keeping her information private? Is that something that happens? We are trying to serve this inmate divorce papers.

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      If the federal link says that she was released, I would think that she was released. You may wish to call the facility directly to see for sure. We cannot help you with this matter.
      Thank-you for contacting Legal Action Workshop!

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      It would be best to report this threat to the police/facility. You may also wish to speak to an attorney who handles civil retraining orders (those involving people that are not direct family members). We do not help with civil restraining orders.
      Thank-you for contacting Legal Action Workshop!

  6. Irina Anderson says

    I would like to serve an inmate who is county jail in California and his family member who is not an in-mate but lives out of state. I live in California and my case is related to a civil matter in California and I would like to sue this inmate and his family member.

    Can I serve this inmate who is California jail with court documents and also sub-serve his family member by giving the family members documents also to him or do I need to separately serve the family member that is out-of-state separately?

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      We do not handle civil matters, so you may want to speak with a civil attorney for answers to your questions. With regard to service, we have found that it’s best to speak with a process server in the area of the facility who would, more than likely, know the best way to serve.
      Hope this helps!

  7. Andrea L White says

    Well, I’m having trouble reaching anyone in Folsom Prison by phone. i want to serve him divorce papers. How can I get the information I need from who, whom and where I need to have him serve. I want to make sure I dot my i’s and cross my t’s no mistakes. Pease advise me if possible.

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      The best way to serve is to contact a process server in the area of the prison…that person will probably know how to serve. In addition, you could reach out to a sheriff in the area of the facility who would also know about service.
      Hope this helps!

  8. Marcus H. says

    I have a Family Member getting out of Prison I heard and another who is being assisted by ACLU and The Innocence Project. These organizations have harassed me and abused my life and invaded my privacy in attempts to get me to help with their release. I have had false restraining orders placed on me so that I can be forced away from my Mothers Property so they can make it a Prison Parole release home and actually did the Paperwork and got funding for it and closed it after funding was approved. Because one of the inmates in my sisters it has strained our relationships and she has been controlling my deceased mothers home and is involved in the harassment I have been receiving for many years. She has told me for many years that she wished her son was home and wished he was more like me. Professional and Business minded and not involved in gangs. I am looking to file several needed restraining orders on people in Prison and people out of Prison and also file a Civil Lawsuit as I have been instructed to do by my local Police Station. Any Suggestions please?

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      Any restraining orders could be filed on your behalf against those who are harassing you. It’s best to go to the police with evidence of current activity so that there would be a report which is very helpful when filing a restraining order.
      Hope this helps!

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