A court will not hear a case until the defendant or the opposing party has personally received a court summons and a copy of the complaint or petition. Usually, defendants receive these documents by personal delivery, substituted service, or service by mail. Unfortunately, serving legal documents gets complicated without the defendant’s address. Here’s what you need to know when serving legal documents with no address.

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…or continue reading the article below to learn more about serving legal documents without an address.

Serving Legal Documents When You Don’t Have Address

In small claims, a plaintiff may serve the opposing party by certified mail. In this situation, the Court Clerk prepares and sends the complaint by mail. On the contrary, in most other court cases, the court requires personal service or substituted service. With this in mind, without the defendant’s home or work address, you cannot serve those papers. Given these points, without service, the court cannot hear the case.

Under these circumstances, how can you serve legal documents when you do not have an address? At A People’s Choice, we can help you ask the court to serve by publication when you don’t have an address. It is important to realize, however, that you first must make every attempt to locate the party you are trying to serve. For this reason, we work with experienced investigators throughout California who may be able to find the other party. Read on to learn more about what is involved in serving a defendant that is hard to locate.

Obtaining Basic Contact Information

If you do not have the defendant’s address, then start with what you know. Make a list including:

  • Their full name
  • Date of birth
  • The last city in which they lived
  • Where they were born
  • Any immediate relatives

This information will help you start the process of serving legal documents.

Pinning Down the Address

When your list is complete, you are ready to locate the defendant. First, try using an online software service like TruthFinder to find a missing defendant. These software programs take all the information you do know about the defendant and consolidate it. The program uses the combined data to try to identify the defendant’s present location. If this fails, attempt reverse phone lookup programs. They link phone numbers to addresses. You may also search various Social Media. It is amazing how often someone can find a missing person through these simple tools.

Unfortunately, these online options may not find your missing person. Fortunately, a process server or private investigator may have additional options for you.

Service By Publication or Posting

If you are unable to locate the defendant, you can ask the court to serve your papers through a legal noticing process. This process is called “service by publication” or “service by posting.”  Plaintiffs commonly use service by publication in divorce or civil cases when they need to serve legal documents on a party with no address.

Service by legal notice allows a plaintiff or petition to publish or post the Summons in public. With publication, the content of the Summons must appear in a newspaper of general circulation in the area where you believe the individual is living. With posting, the Court posts the Summons in the courthouse in a place designated for serving court notices by posting.

How does service by publication or posting work? As an illustration, with divorce, when one spouse wants to serve the other divorce papers but does not know where they their spouse is living, they can ask the court to allow service by publication. Keep in mind, you must show that you have made other attempts to locate and serve the party, but have been unsuccessful. Under those circumstances, if the judge approves a request to publish, you can arrange to publish the Summons in a newspaper. When serving by publication, the court considers service complete at the end of the 28th day after the first date you publish the Summons in the newspaper.

Alternatively, for low-income individuals, the judge can approve service by posting. In order words, this allows the court clerk to post the Summons and related documents in a public place in the courthouse designated for serving legal notices by posting. With service by posting, there are no newspaper publication costs. When serving by posting, the court considers service complete at the end of the 28th day after the first date the Court Clerk posts the Summons.

Remember,  you must request court approval before you can serve legal documents by publication or posting. In other words, you must be able to show to the court that you have tried as hard as possible to serve by traditional means.

A party must submit specific forms to the court when asking to serve legal documents by publication or posting. These forms include an application request and the orderOnce the court approves this alternate way of service, you can proceed to arrange the publication or posting. Lastly, you must file proof with the court that you have correctly completed publication or posting.  At A People’s Choice, we can help you prepare the required forms to file with the court. We provide flat fee legal document preparation service. Contact us today for more information or call 805-648-5540.

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