What happens if you avoid being served court papers? There is an old saying: “You can run, but you can’t hide.” Learn what happens to you or individuals who try to avoid having papers served by a process server.

When someone decides to take legal action against you for whatever reason, it can be tempting to try to evade being served. In fact, some people will go to great lengths in their attempt to avoid being handed the legal documents.

But does it ever work? Read on to find out what happens if you avoid being served court papers–or try to, rather.

Why Dodging a Process Server Can Be Tricky

Evading the papers a process server is trying to deliver to you isn’t as easy as you might think. Whether you’re trying to avoid a summons to small claims court, divorce papers, or some other, more daunting claim, professionals have a way of getting the job done.

Just as you’re determined to avoid being served, these professionals are both trained and tenacious about making certain it happens. Their work is a blend of private investigation and persistence.

He or she has multiple ways of ensuring you receive the papers, including direct and indirect means. One of the most common practices is to sit and wait at your home or place of business until you arrive or leave. This is called a stakeout.

Since most people cannot afford to just disappear and leave their responsibilities behind, they inevitably show up at these locations. When they do, a process server will approach, explain the situation, and provide the necessary documentation.

But what if you refuse to accept the papers?

The process depends on the state’s unique laws, but, in general, your refusal does little to deter the process. If a process server has identified you as the recipient of the legal documents, they can leave them with you whether you physically accept them or not.

Simply put, if they find you, you’re getting served.

What Happens If You Avoid Being Served Court Papers?

If you manage to evade a process server, your luck won’t hold out. Legally, depending on the documents, they can be sub-served on your behalf to a capable individual over the age of 18 who:

  • Lives in your home
  • Works at your place of business
  • Is in charge of your usual place of mailing

That means even if you aren’t present, you can be served. Other methods in certain states include sending the documents through certified mail to either your residence or workplace. The tricky part of this method is that recipients may sign for the document before realizing they’re accepting a summons.

Yet even if you manage to avoid all of this and the papers never reach your hands, desk, or doorstep, that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. At best, you’re merely delaying the legal process.

If the person trying to serve you is unable to do so, they can approach the judge and request to fulfill the duty by publishing a notice in local a publication, such as your local newspaper. However, more likely it will be in a newspaper that specializes in publishing legal notices; one you probably didn’t even know existed until now, let alone have ever seen.

Because of this, your best course of action is to focus the energy you would spend avoiding being served on preparing your strategy to address the legal action brought against you.

What to Do After You’ve Been Served

Once you’ve been served, you need to take action. Depending on the reason for your summons, this could mean a variety of things. For example, you may be served due to a debt you have outstanding or you may be facing a divorce or lawsuit.

No matter what your case is, though, you have to respond. You don’t have a lot of time to do this. Once the papers are officially served, you have anywhere from 24 hours to 30 days to file your response with the court and serve it by First Class Mail on the plaintiff or petitioner, depending on the type of documents you were served with.

It is highly recommended that you seek legal counsel as you craft your answer. A rushed or poor response may end up causing you more legal trouble than the initial summons has created.

When you draft your answer, it must be thorough. Go line by line, paragraph by paragraph, and craft a reply to every allegation listed in the legal documentation you received.

Answer the Complaint

The answer or response to the documents you were served with, is your objection or your defense to the action brought against you. Likely, you will have a limited time to respond, so move quickly once you have been served with the documents.

Every type of document will have its own timeline but generally, you will be required to have a non-biased or uninvolved person serve the opposing party with notice of your answer or response by First Class Mail and provide the proof of service back to the court.

A process server can assist you with this, likely at a substantially discounted rate from what personal, in-hand service would cost.

If you’re looking for an alternative against submitting an answer, you have 3 options: settle the case, file a counterclaim, or file a motion to dismiss the case entirely.

But what do these acts mean, exactly?

Settlement

A settlement is an offer to create a mutually acceptable resolution with your plaintiff in order to settle the dispute that led to this point. However, keep in mind that you need to come to an agreeable negotiation prior to submitting your answer. This can be tricky if your plaintiff isn’t willing to settle easily.

Counterclaim

Another approach is a counterclaim, which, in laymen’s terms, is to respond to the claim brought upon you with a claim against the plaintiff. This would be an opposition in order to combat the claim brought upon you. If you choose this path, make sure it’s with a valid claim.

Motion to Dismiss

Lastly, you can file a motion to dismiss. A client can do this if he or she believes the plaintiff failed to state a claim or there is a lack of jurisdiction for the case.

However, it is ultimately up to the judge to determine whether your motion is valid. If he or she denies your motion for dismissal, you may only have a short amount of time to craft an answer to your summons.

Individuals who ignore claims made against them and refuse to submit an answer will likely receive a default judgment that favors the plaintiff. This judgment is binding, so think carefully before you choose to do nothing.

An attorney can provide you with the best insight and course of action based on your circumstances. If you have no legal background, you do not want to handle this process on your own. Even when it comes to small claims court, legal cases aren’t something to take lightly.

What If You’re the One Needing Papers Served?

Now that you know what happens if you avoid being served court papers, it’s best that you prepare for what’s ahead rather than trying to avoid it. But what if you’re on the other side of the process? What is the best way to go about serving someone, especially when they’re trying to dodge it?

Talk to us about hiring a process server to handle the job for you. With our expertise, we’ll take the stress of serving papers off your shoulders by executing the task efficiently. Feel free to contact us anytime to discuss your personal process serving needs at 1-510-797-9996.

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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