Finding out that someone is suing you is enough to ruin anyone’s day. Many people do not want to find out that someone has filed a case against them in court. In fact, they sometimes go out of their way to not find out about the lawsuit. Therefore, serving someone with court papers is more complicated than it sounds. The law requires you to make every reasonable effort to notify the person you are suing, and you must carefully document your efforts to send notice to the defendant. Proper service of legal documents can involve a lot of paperwork, especially if you try to notify the defendant through substitute service of process. A registered legal document assistant can help you prepare the required civil complaint forms as well as make sure you have followed the correct procedures for serving someone with court papers.

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…or continue reading the article below to learn more about substitute service of process.

How to Serve Court Papers

The court will not decide your case until after you have made every effort to notify and properly serve the defendant with the lawsuit. Serving court papers means delivering them to the defendant, preferably in person. The person who delivers the papers (the “server”) cannot be a plaintiff in the case, and they must be at least 18 years old. You can hire a professional process server or ask a friend or relative to serve the papers.

To serve someone, the server will go to the defendant’s home or work and, if possible, hands the papers to the defendant. The server must then fill out a form documenting their attempt to serve the papers and whether they succeeded. Even if the defendant rips up the papers or refuses to take them, service is still valid. If the server cannot find the defendant as the defendant’s address, this is an unsuccessful attempt.

But what happens is the person you are trying to serve is hiding out or avoiding service? In this situation, you can use substitute service of process to serve the defendant.

Substitute Service of Process

Upon the third unsuccessful attempt, the server can then do a substitute service of process.  Sadie’s cousin Penelope wants to divorce her husband Derek, who moved in with his parents after they separated. Penelope has asked Sadie to serve the divorce papers. On Monday, Sadie goes to Derek’s parents’ house at 7:00 in the evening, when Derek is usually home after work. No one answers the doorbell. On Tuesday, she goes to the mechanic shop where, as far as she knows, Derek still works. The person in the front office says Derek is not working that day and doesn’t know when he will be there. On Wednesday, Sadie goes to Derek’s parents’ house at 6:30 in the morning. No one answers the doorbell, but a middle-aged man is mowing the front lawn of the house. Sadie asks him to give Derek the papers, and he agrees, so she hands him the papers.  The man refuses to tell Sadie his name. Sadie fills out a form, in which she describes the man who took the papers. She also mails a copy of the documents to Derek at his parents’ address.

This is an example are how to use substitute service of process to serve someone legal documents. The process server made several attempts to serve the documents when and where the defendant was expected to be. In this regard, the court can assume that Derek will receive the papers, so the case can move forward.

The Intricacies of Proper Substitute Service

As mentioned above, substituted service of process typically occurs after there have been multiple attempts of personal service.  With substitute service of process, if personal service is not possible, the server can leave a copy of the paperwork with another adult at the defendant’s work or home.  Be aware that the person receiving the documents must be at least 18 years or older.

If the process server serves the documents using this alternate manner, an additional step is necessary to complete service. Specifically, the server mails a copy of court documents, postage paid, first-class mail to the defendant at the same address. Service of documents in this manner is determined to be complete on the 10th day after the mailing. As you can see, this is different than when a person is actually handed their legal paperwork in person. With personal service, the date of service is the exact day the summons and complaint are delivered.

Substitute service of process requires the process server to prepare, sign and file a special declaration with the court. This declaration must explain, in detail, all of the attempts the server made to serve the defendant personally. Remember, the court requires at least three separate efforts. Attempts must be on three different days, at different times and at all known addresses for the defendant. More importantly, the server must attempt service during hours when the party would likely be available. For example, if you are serving someone at work, you must try service at their work location during their regular scheduled working hours. In the declaration, the process server must explain how likely it is that the defendant is aware of these service attempts.

As you can see, serving someone with court papers requires meticulously prepared documents. Proper service is an essential part of the civil process. Improper service may result in the court setting aside a subsequent default judgment. If you are struggling to serve someone, are considering substitute service of process, and need help with your legal paperwork, contact A People’s Choice at 800-747-2780.

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