I frequently get asked about subpoenas in North Carolina family law cases. What is a subpoena? What does a subpoena do? What do I do if I get one? How do we get one served?   Let’s spend some time answering these questions.

What is a subpoena?

Under North Carolina law, Rule 45 of the Rules of Civil Procedure governs subpoenas and the process around them.  A subpoena is a command to show up in court and/or produce documents at a certain place and time.

Importantly, a subpoena may be issues by an attorney, clerk or judge.  A pro se party may not sign a subpoena and must get a court official to issue it for the self-represented party.

What does a subpoena do?

A subpoena accomplishes the goal of making sure a witness is in court with documents related to the case.  For example, if you want a witness to show up in Wake County District Court to testify in your child custody case, a subpoena is served on that witness in advance to be in court.  It also is a way of getting documents prior to court from non-parties to the litigation.  For example, a bank may be served a subpoena to compel the production of certain bank account records prior to an alimony hearing.

A subpoena cannot be used to compel a party to provide documents prior to a hearing.  To accomplish this one must use a Rule 34 request for production of documents.

What do I do if I get served with a subpoena?

You should immediately contact your lawyer.   If an objection is not made promptly, the right to object to the scope and timing of the subpoena is going to be lost.   You should gather any documents requested and show up at the designated place and time as set forth in the subpoena.

How is a subpoena served?

Typically service is performed by certified mail, sheriff’s deputy, or by an adult who is not a party to the case (for example a private process server or paralegal).    There are limitations on subpoenas, for example, it is typically not appropriate to serve an out-of-North Carolina person to appear in court in North Carolina.



Scott Allen is a divorce attorney in Raleigh, NC with over twenty-three years of experience in all areas of family law litigation and settlement.  He can be reached at 919.863.4183.


"Representation Matters"

"Scott was wonderful throughout the long process and it was clear to me that Scott was knowledgeable of case-law and the Wake County Court system, as well as being especially strong in court. His representation resulted in additional parenting time following the temporary custody trial and since the case proceeded to a full trial, I was ultimately awarded the custody arrangement I was seeking. My daughters reside in Wake County and now if my ex-wife chooses to relocate, I’ll have full legal custody of the girls. Throughout the process, Scott was responsive, provided extremely helpful advice, and genuinely cared about the outcome of my case. I would strongly recommended Scott’s representation for custody matters."

Jon H

"Cared About My Situation"

I was out of options and Scott was there to help. I have spoken to or met many attorney's in Wake County and Scott was the only one that REALLY actually cared about my situation. It sounds cliche' but it's not. I could clearly tell that Scott had given a lot of thought to my case. Scott has extensive knowledge of the law. That knowledge coupled with his cerebral approach and courtroom presence were a savior. - Ken

"Secured My Life"

"Scott Allen and his team were sensational during my divorce proceedings. They kept me well-informed of the procedures, requirements, and options. They took the time to explain to me at every step of the decisions and options as we moved forward in my life. Their support, knowledge and presence were comforting in my time of need and help me get through the ordeal. While no divorce is pleasant outcome they help me secure my life and begin a new chapter with a fresh start. Their extensive knowledge of the law and arbitration and negotiation skills were invaluable in getting a good settlement and resolution. I am very pleased that I selected Scott and his team to represent me. I would emphatically recommend Scott and to anyone who is facing a divorce or possibility of a divorce."

Steven D

"Fought for My Rights"

I wanted to go to court and he went with it. During the initial hearing and all the subsequent hearings he fought for my rights and presented my case diligently and proved the claims by the other party to be false. Most of the lawyers, will tell you settle as it saves them and the court time, but it might not be always in your best interest. Scott is not those lawyers, he really cares about his clients and is not afraid to litigate or fight for his client’s right in the court. - Susan

"I Began to Sleep Better at Night"

Scott Allen took my divorce case after my first lawyer failed to stand for my rights.Scott took the case and I began to sleep better at night. My marriage ended from abuse so I was very weary. - Felicia