Did you know that a process server only has a set period of time to serve papers to a defendant? If you do not officially inform the other party that there is a court case against them according to the laws related to civil procedure, the judge may dismiss your case in court.

It sounds a little bit scary right? But there’s no need to worry. Even when a person is acting evasively to try and avoid being served, you have plenty of time to track them down and deliver legal documents to them.

Professional process servers are well-trained and experienced legal experts who know how to serve someone in a timely and affordable manner. Many people choose to hire a professional process serving company for this reason. Plus, it saves them the hassle of learning about the legal framework in civil procedures just to avoid errors that may cause ineffective service.

So how does a professional process server ensure that a defendant will get served before their court date? And how long does a process server have to serve papers? We’re going to have a look at the answer to these questions below.

Who Can Serve Process?

Any individual over the age of 18 can serve papers in California unless they are party to the case. Individual servers are not required to be registered so long as they don’t serve more than ten papers per year. Then, they would be required to register in the county where they live or do business.

The State of California enforces strict laws surrounding process service designed to protect a citizen’s right to due process. When someone is served incorrectly, not only can the person serving legal documents get charged with a criminal action in the most extreme situations, but the case may be delayed or thrown out in of court entirely. It’s safer to hire a professional process serving company.

Professional Process Servers

To avoid the hassle of learning process service laws, the complications of ineffective service, and the potential for civil liability associated with not serving someone correctly, many people hire a process server to hand over legal documents legitimately and efficiently.

D&R Legal has been serving process for 36 years in California. The team of professional process servers are well versed in the Californian legal system and are extensively trained in the methods and tactics required to serve a defendant quickly and legally. If you need process to be served in a timely and affordable manner, give your California Process Servers a call today.

Man in glasses and hat with a woman

Can I Serve Papers Myself?

No, you cannot serve the papers for a case you are involved in yourself. In California, any friend or family member over 18 who is not a party to the case may serve papers. However, the criminal or more likely civil implications that may come when a civil process is not undertaken correctly are the main reason most people pay a reasonable fee for a registered process server to deliver legal documents for them.

How Much Time Does it Take to Serve Papers?

A company serving process usually offers several options of service delivery time. Each company will have unique policies around timeframes, so it pays to discuss your expectations with the professionals. That said, the below will serve as a general guide:

Routine Service

Normally, for routine service, the typical time to serve papers is 5-7 days. This is usually the first attempt to serve papers.  If they fail to serve the defendant, subsequent attempts can be repeated a set number of times over a specified timeframe following the first attempt. 

Expedited or Rush Service

If you need papers served in a faster time frame, you can opt for expedited services. These usually cost more than standard delivery, and your documents get delivered a few days faster. Generally, this service usually takes about 3-5 days.

Same-day Service

If you need a person served as fast as possible, you can choose same-day service. This option generally costs more than routine and expedited services and may not be available if you contact your process server too late in the day. Always call to check their availability.

a process server advising a client

How Many Times Will a Process Server Try to Serve You?

The number of times a process server tries to serve a defendant depends on which company you hire. For routine services, most process servers offer multiple attempts. Keep in mind that some servers will charge for additional attempts while others cover a set amount at a flat rate. The average nationwide is 3 attempts. D&R will usually provide 6 attempts, sometimes more at a single valid address locally.

How Long Does a Process Server Have to Serve Papers in California?

In the State of California, you have three years from the date you have taken legal action against someone to serve them with a summons and complaint to the defendant. The person needs to be officially informed that legal action is filed against them within this period, or the case may be dismissed in court.

Every document in California will have its own timeline on how many days before a hearing date a document needs to be served, for example:

  • A Request for Order must be served 16 court days prior to the hearing
  • An Order for Examination must be served 10 calendar days before the hearing
  • A Restraining Order is usually served 5 calendar days before the hearing
  • An In-county Small Claims Action must be sub served 25 calendar days before the hearing
  • An Out-of-county Small Claims Action must be served 30 calendar days before a hearing

This is just a small example of the service timelines for only a handful of California documents. If you have documents filed in another state then their timelines will be completely different from ours. You should check with the court, an attorney or a reputable process server in that state for the specific requirements.

A professional may use several different approaches to get around this problem – such as various handover methods – as we’ll discuss below.

What Types of Service Are There?

There are many ways to serve a defendant engaging in evasive behavior and proving difficult to find. It’s the responsibility of the person serving to ensure that they are operating within the United States legal procedure outlining correct process service.

If not, the service will be ineffective, and the person delivering may end up with civil penalties of their own as a result. Here are some ways professional process servers will provide court documents to a defendant.

Personal Service

Personal service is when somebody who is not a party to the case locates the defendant and personally delivers the legal documents to them by hand. The server must identify the named individual and inform them that they are receiving legal documents.

A process server may leave the documents on the ground in front of the individual if he or she refuses to accept them. In the case that the individual tears up the papers or throws them away, service is still valid in the eyes of the law.

The server will fill out a proof of service describing where, when, and how the papers were given. They then sign the proof of service and send it for document filing at the courts.

Personal service is the most reliable way to serve process because the courts know the defendant definitely received the documents. If necessary, the courts can question the process service about the details of what took place.

How Long Does a Process Server Have to Serve Papers?

Substituted Service of Process

Substituted service usually happens when several attempts of personal handover have fallen through. If the person has tried multiple addresses, such as the named defendant’s place of home or work, over several days of the week (usually a minimum of three), and at different times of the day, they can try substituted service.

During substituted service, the process servers leave court documents in the hands of someone at the defendant’s home or workplace. It could be a family member or cohabitant, or it could be a business manager or a management-level employee. This individual must be of sound mind and be over 18.

The server must inform the recipient that these papers are for the other party and take down the name and address of the person receiving the documents. If the recipient refuses to give their name, the server can write a detailed physical description.

The server must also mail the documents to the defendant via first class mail at the same address where the papers were left. Substituted service is complete ten days after the documents are mailed.

Service by Certified Mail

Service by certified mail is when somebody not a party to the case sends the documents by first-class mail to the defendant. You must make sure that service by mail is permitted for the documents before you choose this option.

If the party served is a person, you can send the documents to their last known home address. On the other hand, if the party being served is a business, the papers must be mailed to the owner at the business’s primary office location. If the business has a service agent, you can mail it directly to them.

The server needs to fill out the proof of service detailing when the documents were mailed, how, and where they were dispatched. Service is complete five days after the papers have been sent.

While service via certified mail is easy, it’s not the most reliable way to ensure the party taken to court has received notification of their case.

Can You Ignore a Professional Process Server?

When someone ignores or tries to avoid a process server it is called evasion of service. In California, this is perfectly legal, but it’s rarely effective. Usually, it results in the case dragging out over a longer period.

There are a number of different methods for serving process – including non-traditional ways through which service is still considered effective. A person trying to avoid receiving papers may succeed for a while. However, it’s rare for somebody to avoid service for three years, and all approaches have been exhausted without the defendant considered officially served.

How Long Does a Process Server Have to Serve Papers?

What Can and Cannot Get in the Way of Serving Papers?

According to California state laws, there are certain things a process server can and cannot do to serve papers successfully. When a process server – or someone who is not a party to the case – has delivered legal documents outside the legal framework, they may be libel in civil court and the service will not be valid. For this reason, all professional process servers are extensively trained in the legal system surrounding process service and are well versed in practical methods to get someone served properly.

Some legal papers are required to be delivered in a specific manner. For instance, some documents must be presented via personal service where the process server personally hands them to an individual. This list is not an exhaustive guide to serving papers, but here are some of the things a process server can and cannot do when serving a legal document.

Remember, a person serving is responsible for knowing and upholding process serving laws that account for proper service.

It's Illegal to Break and Enter

Most process servers will start personal service by delivering court papers to a person at their home. Most of the time this is not trespassing for a California Registered Process Server, who have some exemptions to trespass laws.

A process server can generally enter private property to knock on the door, ring the doorbell, open an unlocked gate or follow another resident into a secured building or gated community, as any delivery person would be allowed to do.

If they cannot gain access to a secured building or gated community, the server may have to wait for the defendant to leave or come back later. Sometimes people try avoiding service. In that case, it is legal for the server to wait until they have left the building and serve them in a public place, they may not wait on private property unless given permission or until asked to leave.

How Long Does a Process Server Have to Serve Papers?

A Process Server Can Stakeout A Person

While a process server may not enter into the home of somebody when they are not invited in, it’s perfectly legal to wait outside the defendant’s property or place of work for them to leave, within reason. Further, the law does not prevent a process server from waiting outside a known friend or family member’s home if there is speculation the person will visit, on a public street or area.

People can be served at their gym or a restaurant if they are being difficult to find at home or their place of work. Just make sure it’s a public space, and you’re not breaching any privacy laws.

It's Forbidden to Threaten or Harass During Process Service

This should go without saying, but a process server has to follow the same laws as everyone else when it comes to behavior. They should be fairly nice and respectful, in most cases you probably should not even know it’s a process server until you have been served.

What about Harassment? Process Servers generally don’t harass people but sometimes we are required to bang our heads against brick walls. Sometimes it’s the defendants/witness’s fault, they want to avoid service. Other times it’s our clients fault, they don’t want to listen to us when we tell them it is no longer a valid address or they are convinced it’s a good address. If we believe we are being lied to, the server will continue making attempts, knocking on doors, ringing doorbells, getting annoyed that they are avoiding service. That’s not harassment, that’s doing the job.

How Do You Make a Process Server Go Away?

If you are avoiding service and you want a process server to go away… the fastest way to make the attempts stop is to just take the papers already.
It’s in your best interest too. You could be libel for the fees and costs it takes to get you served; multiple addresses, stakeout time, publication costs, we’re talking thousands of dollars and more in some cases. You may end up being served in a manner where you don’t know you were served and won’t have the ability to respond or defend yourself.

If you are at the subject’s previous address and you want a process server to go away… you need to be cooperative with the server. Provide them with as much information as they need to believe you and convince their client that you are not lying and the defendant is not avoiding service there.
Please be understanding that you may have moved into a place where a deadbeat who owes everyone under the sun money, used to be there and now all those people are suing that guy. You may get a visit from multiple process servers, we don’t all work for the same company and don’t know each other. So we don’t know that guy moved.

Generally we want to know who you are, last name may be enough, how long ago you moved in and if you are still seeing mail for this person or company showing up. If you know or are related to the person let them know and provide any forwarding information you have.

Even if it’s just, “That’s my brother, he moved out in December and went to Texas but I don’t know exactly where. We kinda had a falling out.” That’s probably enough to get them to stop coming by and eventually people will stop coming by looking for the subject.

Process Servers Can Use Alternative Methods to Serve a Person

Occasionally, a process server will encounter a position where they cannot serve an individual. This situation usually results from a defendant not wanting to be served, so they resort to extensive lengths to avoid a process server.

Here is when they will use alternative methods to serve a person. Alternative service should not be confused with substituted service as outlined above, where a server leaves legal documents with a signatory over 18. Instead, an alternative service of process is when the named individual is served, but not through the traditional approach.

Alternative service methods have been around for a long time but became particularly useful during the global pandemic when social distancing rules and regional lockdowns obstructed the service of process in its traditional form. Here are a few non-traditional methods that effectively serve someone. All of which will likely require a Special Court Order signed off by a judge.

  • Electronically posting service papers to the court’s website
  • Publishing a notice in a local newspaper
  • Serving someone via a social media account
  • Sending the service to the defendant’s email address
  • Sending the service through the mail or overnight delivery
  • Posting the documents on your door and mailing a copy

Alternative service methods can vary from state to state, so any person dispatching papers must learn what effective service is in their state, and what is considered ineffective.

It's Illegal to Pretend to be a Law Enforcement Officer

The law prohibits a process server to imitate a police officer or court official to try and force or coerce the defendant into opening their door. In many circumstances, it’s illegal to impersonate a police officer, and this remains true for professionals and non-professionals positioned to carry out due process.

They Can Leave a Summons Taped to Your Door

While process servers are not allowed to unlawfully enter a property by unlocking gates or forcing their way into your home, they might leave the summons taped to your door. In some states this is available from day one and in other states you will have to get a Special Court Order to allow service by this means. Generally a mailing is required after filing.

Process Servers Cannot Leave Papers with a Minor, Well Maybe

We spoke about substituted service above. However, under no circumstances can a process server leave legal documents with a minor in the home or the workplace in California.

Any person receiving documents must be over the age of 18 and in sound mind for it to be considered effective in the eyes of the law.

If you are serving a minor who is 12 years or older you would serve both the minor and the parent or guardian and if they are Under 12 then you only serve the parent or guardian.

There are many states in the US that allow substitute serve to be effected on a minor, usually we have seen 13 or older is the average age in some other states. If we are serving papers from another state here in California we would be allowed to serve the documents on that 13 year old minor on behalf of their parents or another adult resident. We do try to avoid serving a minor in this situation though.

What Happens if the Documents Cannot Be Served?

If a process server fails to serve the defendant, or if the other party is avoiding service, the attorney can file a motion with the courts. If the courts approve this proposal, it will be possible to serve the named individual in another way.

The courts can grant permission to serve via public notification, where the service notice is published in a local newspaper or journal.

As a last resort, this method ensures that the service is complete and you can move onto the judgment. Most of the time it facilitates service before the end of the three-year time restriction, so the legal proceeding can still take place.

invisible person

Final Thoughts

It can be extremely tricky to serve legal process to somebody without a thorough understanding of federal and state legal procedures. If the other party in your case is avoiding service or refuses to formally accept service, the person serving must be thoroughly informed about the diligence process service requires. Otherwise, it can result in a case dismissal or even civil liabilities.

A legal process server delivers papers promptly and according to process service laws. Legal professionals are trained to manage evasive behavior and the many approaches to legal service of process, which saves a significant amount of time, money, and stress.

If you want to hire a process server with extensive experience in California process service, speak with the knowledgeable team at D&R legal today. D&R Legal process servers can offer you complete support through your case and ensure that your legal proceedings commence without delay so you can progress through your trial without worry.

Jason Burke

Jason Burke is a self-made man who knows that hard work pays off. He has dedicated his life to helping other people with their legal problems, and he loves every minute of it!

He has over 24 years of experience in the field, all of which are focused on serving papers. Jason serves papers regulatory and for the last couple of years has served almost everything in Alameda, Santa Clara, San Mateo and Western Contra Costa Counties himself.

He pepares every single proof of service that D&R Legal Process Service produces to ensure that clients receive the highest quality they have come to expect from them.

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