Serving legal documents can be a lengthy and complicated process. This is why understanding the legal requirements and following through with them is essential for ensuring that legal papers are served properly. If you do not follow the rules of service in your jurisdiction, you may face serious consequences before, during, or after your court date.

Before you serve legal papers to any person, contact a process server. At D&R Legal Process Service, LLC., process servers with decades of experience know how to serve papers efficiently and successfully.

Serving Court Papers Without Hassle or Headache

When it comes to proper service of court documents, it’s imperative that parties to a case understand how to best deliver and file documents. Although a person may qualify to serve papers, only a seasoned process server has the consummate tools, knowledge, and expertise to serve properly in all situations and circumstances.

Knowing the best methods, who to hire and the associated costs can be critical for success. If you aim to serve legal paperwork to the opposing party as efficiently as possible, you should contact a professional processing server immediately.

Let’s cover how to make the most of this service of process, how service is carried out, and how it can be used to serve even the most evasive defendants.

The Best Way to Serve Papers to a Person in a Legal Case

If you need to serve papers to any person in a legal case, you should first understand the specific rules and requirements of your jurisdiction. As a general rule, you need to recognize what constitutes proper and valid service. To do that, you need to serve the papers according to specific procedures.

Before you have anyone serve the papers or file any paperwork, do your due diligence to execute the following steps.

(1) Know Exactly Who Must be Served

Make sure you know the party, individual, or private person to whom you need to serve the papers. What kind of person is receiving the service of process? Do you need to serve divorce papers? An eviction notice? A summons or subpoena?

Make sure you serve the appropriate person(s), including any co-defendants and related parties.

(2) Adhere to the Rules of Service

Every jurisdiction has various rules detailing how to serve the papers. These rules typically apply to the method of service, the person authorized to serve the papers, and the time allotted for service. You should clearly understand what the court requires before attempting to have any person served. If you’re struggling to find somebody to serve for you, you can reference a written list, the yellow pages, or simply hire a top process service professional.

(3) Hire a Professional Process Server

Depending on the jurisdiction, a specific person may not be authorized to serve papers. If they are not of a suitable age or a competent adult, they will automatically be unfit to serve. This is why hiring private process servers is so crucial. A process server is specifically trained in serving legal papers and will understand all your jurisdiction’s rules of service.

Unlike with a non-professional person, using a process server ensures that you operate within the rules and laws of the court. You can always consult a county clerk and other court clerks if you are unsure about this legal process.

(4) Maintain Valid Records

Although private process servers can handle most of the legwork, you also want to ensure you personally keep good records. Your records should include the legal action taken, and details on the service of process, including the person served, the date and time the service was performed, the method of the service, and other service-related details.

Maintain a copy of all your service records and papers, as this documentation may be required later on in your case.

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What Exactly Is Service of Process, Anyway?

Service of process is the term for a specific civil procedure in which legal papers, such as summonses, complaints, subpoenas, and other documents, are delivered to the appropriate party. Service of process allows for due process because it notifies the defendant(s) of relevant legal action.

Furthermore, service of process ensures that the sued party is aware of the lawsuit and able to respond. This service of process also ensures that the court has jurisdiction over the matter. A sheriff, police officer, process server, or responsible adult (18 or older) who is not a party to the case can serve process.

From small claims to larger legal actions, service of process is critical to any legal proceeding. Without the appropriate delivery of necessary documents, a court date may be delayed, or the case may be dismissed entirely.

Depending on your case, you may contact a small claims court clerk, your county or city clerk or clerk’s office, as well as a process server to determine what needs to be filed and served.

How Much Time do Process Servers Have to Serve Papers?

If you’re wondering about serving and filing papers in the appropriate time, you should first reference your jurisdiction’s rules. Generally, the court determines the allotted period for service of process, which can be anywhere from 30 days to 120 days after a complaint is filed.

Seasoned process servers will deeply understand the ins and outs of these rules. If the court assigns your case a new date, or if the papers cannot be served after several attempts, your process server can take alternative actions to maximize the likelihood of properly serving the person, party, or parties in your case.

In many cases, such as those in federal court, the rules require that the defendant be served within 90 days. The court rules and statutes vary depending on the jurisdiction of the court, the court case type, and the particulars of the court case. Regardless, the service of process must be completed within a certain time frame.

Ultimately, the judge decides how the court will handle your case. You may risk sanctions or having your case dismissed if you do not perform service of process within a reasonable period or by a certain date. In some cases, the court grants an extension.

Always consult top process servers who can file and serve the necessary papers as expeditiously as possible.

What Kinds of Papers do Process Servers Serve?

The types of court papers served by process servers may vary widely. Whether delivering to the other party in person, by first-class mail, or through a ‘surrogate’ recipient, registered process servers must always provide proof of service to confirm the process was completed appropriately. A service form will typically verify any valid service.

The following papers are commonly served:

  • Summons and Complaint
  • Subpoena
  • Court Order of Protection
  • Deposition Notice
  • Notice to Quit
  • Divorce Petition
  • Court Order to Show Cause
  • Writ of Execution
  • Other Forms of Temporary Order

As always, the specific types of papers served will vary based on the jurisdiction and case. For a small fee, a process server can ensure your papers are served in perfect compliance with all applicable rules and regulations. Whether you’re dealing with a small claims office or have a major issue to bring to the attorney general’s office, you’re always better off with a legal professional at your side!

In some cases, a notary public may have to notarize certain proofs of service, ensuring they are free of fraud and deception. A professional processing server will know if a notary public is required for screening your paperwork.

What Are the Different Methods of Process Service?

Because process servers serve many types of legal documentation and court papers, the method of service may vary depending upon the nature of that paperwork, the process of delivering and filing that paperwork, and the particular rules of the jurisdiction.

Professional servers, sheriffs, and court clerks generally employ one of four methods to serve process. In California, the California Code of Civil Procedure details multiple ways in which papers can be served.

Personal Service

Personal service is the most used method of service and is where the serving party delivers the documents to the defendant personally. This is usually a physical exchange, hand-to-hand. In California, the process server can deliver the papers to the person’s home, place of business, or anywhere on the street.

The server can even leave the papers in front of the individual if they refuse to accept service. If the person destroys the papers, this personal service of process is still determined completed – a signature is not required. Personal service is officially performed and completed the day the papers are served. Typically, personal service is required for serving initial papers in any case.

Substituted Service

Substituted service is used when personal service fails. Typically, a server must make at least three attempts on different days and times before substituted service is warranted. In the case of small claims cases, a server may employ substituted service when the intended recipient is not available on the first attempt. Substituted service may include leaving papers with a responsible adult at the intended recipient’s workplace or home mailing address.

The substitute must be notified of the nature of the legal documentation. The server must also record the name and address of the person receiving the documents. If the respondent served does not give a name, a physical description must be recorded. The server must complete both a so-called “declaration of due diligence” service form and a proof of service form following this service.

Service by Certified Mail

The post office is your friend!

There are three methods of certified mail service, including certified mail for small claims, certified mail for out-of-state defendants, and certified mail for parties willing to sign a certified mail receipt. This last method is called service by notice and acknowledgment of receipt. In all cases, the certified letter or document must be mailed to the home address, forwarding address, or business address of the person or party.

It’s important to use certified mail, such as first-class mail or priority mail, to reach the defendant(s), not regular mail. Depending on the method of service used, service may be deemed complete either on the date the recipient signs the return receipt requested or five to ten days following the mailing.

Ask a process server how mail service applies to various civil cases and what kind of proof of service is required. Your court clerk can also answer questions about any certified mail receipt or mail receipt proof of service required.

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Service by Publication

This is usually a last-resort method of service utilized when the person to be served cannot be located or is continuously evading and avoiding service. Service by publication entails the courts authorizing publication of the legal forms in a local newspaper or other designated media outlet. Once enough time has elapsed, the other party is determined to have received the necessary papers.

Because service by publication is usually a last resort, the court will need to know that you exhausted all other options.

Service by Publication Should Be Your Last Resort

You will only be granted permission to serve by publication if you can prove you made every effort, including going to the party’s home and workplace, mailing letters to appropriate addresses, contacting friends, family members, and coworkers, and scouring any phone book, business directory, and internet resource for contact information, such as an e-mail address.

Before you use this service method, you may want to consider other lesser-known methods. In California, you can get the papers posted at the courthouse or on the premises of the individual in the case of eviction notices. You should consult the court clerk about whether or not the court will accept service of process attempts in a given manner.

Best Ways to Locate an Avoidant Defendant

Before your court date, you want to ensure you’ve made every reasonable effort to reach the other party. In some cases, it may seem nearly impossible to serve a defendant who has intentionally ‘vanished’ from the scene. This is why you should hire a professional server who can use methods such as skip tracing to serve the necessary papers and provide the necessary proof of service before your court date.

The following actions can help any server – professional or layperson – serve the other party.

  • Mail a letter to the party’s last known address
  • Ask the local post office about a forwarding address
  • Contact the person’s family or friends
  • Contact the person’s current or past employers
  • Call “411” for potential locations 
  • Look through property records
  • Use online telephone directories
  • Use reverse telephone directories
  • Use online person-search services
  • Scour social media websites
  • Contact federal and state prisons

As you can see, there are many ways that you and any server can help locate the defendant. Whether you’re using phone book records, going through a local tax assessor’s office, inquiring at a post office, scouring Facebook and Instagram, searching the country registrar, or personally calling relatives, you may be able to find critical information on the whereabouts of the defendant.

However, the best course of action is always to contact a seasoned professional. Registered servers will employ further techniques such as surveillance and skip tracing to locate even the most evasive parties. In the end, the judge may issue a default judgment in your favor if the defendant fails to respond to served papers or remains unreachable.

FAQs on Process Serving

What are the best methods for serving court papers?

Personal service is deemed the most reliable and valid form of service, mainly because it is directly and easily verified. Service by mail is the second most preferred method, as proof of receipt is required. The courts will look at all methods, actions taken, and the quantity and quality of attempts made. If you are worried about proper procedural conduct, contact a professional server in your area.

Who is qualified to serve court papers?

Generally speaking, any responsible person at least 18 years of age may serve court paperwork. That said, the server must not be a party to the case and certain jurisdictions may restrict who is eligible to serve on your behalf. All states vary. Some servers must be specially licensed, registered, or trained, and others don’t need to have any credentials. As always, consult your local rules and laws and contact a professional about service of process.

How do I know if the papers were served legally and effectively?

If performed properly, service of process is validated through proof of service documentation. You may also hear back from the defendant, in the case of mail receipts and signed papers. Depending on your jurisdiction, proof of service will usually include one or more of the following: Affidavit of Service by Mail Affidavit of Service by Publication Personal Service Affidavit Return of Service Acknowledgment of Service The specific language for these documents may vary, so be sure you consult a seasoned process server about any forms and paperwork required.

Are there any special requirements for serving certain types of documents?

Yes, certain types of documents must adhere to certain rules. For instance, summonses and complaints initiate lawsuits and must be delivered personally. Some documents like writs, subpoenas, and restraining orders may require court orders and court appearances. Depending on the jurisdiction, servers may have to have special credentials to serve certain papers. If you’re at all unsure or hesitant about getting your papers served the right way, contact D&R Legal Process Service, LLC. With 36 years of experience in the processing field, our legal professionals make the most complex procedures as streamlined and hassle-free as possible. Avoid long court lines, complicated filings, and time wasted chasing down defendants. Worried about meeting those approaching deadlines? Get the best California process servers to handle it all. Send your request and let’s get started today.

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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