What happens if a process server can’t serve you? We answer this question and give you the breakdown.

The gears of Justice grind slowly. This truism reverberates through our national consciousness causing dismay for some and offering opportunity to others. A fair system is a system ripe for exploitation.

While criminal, civil and family law courts take time but the family law and civil timeline features a process that requires you receiving notice that a legal action is taking place, not a trip to jail by law enforcement. What happens if a process server can’t serve you? Things take even longer, but the courts don’t wait forever.

Understanding the responsibilities and duties of process servers is important when considering this question. Keep in mind, the stick at the end of the tunnel is the pain of default judgment.

Read on to learn the step by step breakdown of what happens when a process server can’t serve you.

Purpose of Process Servers  

The legal reasons for being served papers cover your Sixth Amendment rights to face accusers. You deserve to know that a legal action is being issued against you.

You need time to prepare a defense or make a statement to counter any claims.

The notion that you could avoid being served court papers comes from a misunderstanding of the intent of the law.

The courts built the process server concept to ensure notice of legal actions and lawsuits was given to affected parties. The in-person part is a courtesy.

When a person can’t be found, either by avoidance or error, the court has an obligation to continue on behalf of other parties. This leads to our series of answers below.

A Simple Answer to “What Happens if a Process Server Can’t Serve You?”

The simple answer to your question is that the court continues without you. Evidence is brought forth without a rebuttal or defense from you and a judgment is issued.

Rather than delay the process indefinitely all you really do is eliminate your chance to help yourself.

A Less Simple Answer

A definitive guide on how to avoid being served should be quick to explain, that the best you can do is delay the process a few weeks or months. Process servers must show that they made reasonable attempts to serve papers to you in person.

Once they can demonstrate that they have made good-faith attempts to reach you in person, and have been unable to actually deliver in person, things can escalate.

The next stop is getting a judge to permit additional serving methods such as; service by Special Court Order, Posting and Mailing, or Publication, just to name a few.

Note that forcing the courts to take extra time doesn’t put you in the most favorable light, come an actual court appearance.

The judge issues an order and the process server is free to move through other channels. First, they may be allowed to leave the notice with any adult in your household, place of employment or usual place of mailing, even on normally personal only documents, once a Special Court Order has been issued. Meaning a spouse, adult child, sibling, or an employers “No Service Policy” is no longer a shield.

If nobody opens the door altogether they may turn to certified mail or overnight delivery to send the paperwork to a known address. This includes residences and work addresses.

Posting and First Class Mailing, a personal favorite of mine, to deliver actual notice to an avoiding defendant at a confirmed good address. In most cases a Special Court Order will need to be obtained first to go this rout.

Process servers or the opposing party may contact local and community papers to publish notice of the pending action. The act of printing the notice covers the courts requirements. It doesn’t matter if you’ve ever even heard of the publication before or saw the publication, you’re still served.

This also puts the business of the civil or family action in the public forum, where you may not want it to be seen.

As long as the time hasn’t expired, you still have the ability to respond or answer the case but likely you won’t even know you were properly served.

Scales of Justice

If you have any questions about this process or need help finding the right professional process servers for your needs, don’t hesitate to reach out so we can ensure a fast, reliable and easy process service for you.

The Really Long Answer

Breaking this question down even further we look to provisions written under 415.10 – 415.95 of the California state code.

The reasons for being served papers don’t factor into restrictions of methods used to give notice.

If you have moved out of state and can’t be reached in person by a process server (who may have state certifications) mail may still be a viable option but more likely you will just be served by a process server in your new state, you know they exist everywhere right?

In the specific case of property renting or leasing, the initial 3 Day Notice and/or 60 Day Notice and the subsequent Unlawful Detainer (after court order), doesn’t need to be handed to you, it can be served by Posting the notice on the physical property and mailing a copy first class mail.

The physical posting of the summons and complaint and mailing a copy starts the clock for you to respond. Property owners use this to reclaiming the property. Remember that they take possession of the original property and any items found there that you left behind.

If you work in an office or at a company that holds regular business hours, a summons can be left with any office manager. Of course, it doesn’t have to be an office manager but any person in the office that is ‘apparently in charge,’ the receptionist for instance is “Apparently In Charge” if they are as far up the food chain as we can get.

Temp workers may be employed, to do the job but might not be, who you want to rely on to let you know that papers were served on you.

If you moved, unaware that papers were being served you can take comfort knowing that codes exist to handle that. Process severs and private investigators, can access public, private databases and social media to find new information to locate you and if they can’t find you, generally you will be served through Publication.


Not all served papers are summons or notices for response. Some are prejudgments. These represent instances in which the preponderance of rights is on the side of the plaintiff. You face these when in the role of a tenant or subtenant of a property. You may also face these in relation to contractual agreements for services. Prejudgements posted on the premises count. Not being present poses no barrier. Not answering a prejudgment leaves you vulnerable.It is easy to have property that is yours claimed in conjunction with property that is part of the prejudgment. Issuing a response saves you time and effort in retaining your property.

Contact Us

Process serving takes dedication and compliance with the law. We don’t like what happens if a process server can’t serve you, we do our best to get you the actual notice, in the most expedient amount of time, so you can defend yourself in a court of law. We educate and employ the best to give our clients reliable results.

Consider ordering a process server service to find a swift resolution to your legal processing needs or call us directly to discuss service of your answer or response to you upcoming legal action at 510-797-9996 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 prepares 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.

One Response

  1. This info was very pleasing to read. As of recently my attorney has unsuccessfully served an organization. I’m sure he knows the next steps bUt if course I didnt. Reading this gives me hope that just because these people have t been contacted or served , they will still have to face the fire one way or another. Thank you sir

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