The law states that when you begin a lawsuit, you must formally notify the person you are bringing a claim against. The legal way to formally give notice is to "serve" the other side the copies of the legal papers you filed with the court. This is known as "service of process."

Who Can Serve the Other Side?

Service of process means that the other side receives copies of all the paperwork you have filed with the court. The lawsuit paperwork must be third by a third party.

The "server" or "process server" can be:

  • A friend or relative
  • A coworker
  • A county sheriff or marshal
  • A professional process server
  • Anyone over 18 who is NOT a party to the case

The server or process server MUST:

  • Serve the paperwork on the other side in the time require
  • Fill out a proof of service form that tells the court whom they served, when, where, and how
  • Return the proof of service to you so you can file it with the court

What Are the Types of Service?

There are several ways that you can serve the other side, but not all the types of service are allowed in some cases or at some stages of a case. You must determine what types of service is allowed by your jurisdiction. The main types of service are:

  1. Personal Service: Someone who is over the age of 18 and is not a party to the case must personally serve the other side all the proper documents.
  2. Service by Mail: Someone who is not a party in the case must mail the documents to the other party to his or her mailing address. The server must then fill out a proof of service detailing where the papers were mailed.
  3. Substituted Service: Substituted service is used after several failed attempts in personally serving the other party. If the server has tried serving the other side at different times of the week, then the papers can be left with someone who appears to be in charge and is over the age of 18 years old. The server then must mail a copy of the documents to the mailing address of the other side. The server must then write up a "declaration of due diligence" which is a document to the court detailing all the attempts he or she made in serving the lawsuit.
  4. Service by Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt: When the other side approves to be served by mail and is prepared to sign a document for the court saying that they received the documents. This method is commonly used for the summons and complaint in civil or family law cases.

Filling Out and Filing the Proof of Service

In all cases, you must notify the court that the other side was properly served after you have served them. The process server must fill out and sign the proof of service form detailing how the other side was served, type of service used, what time they were served, and to whom the documents were served. Make a copy of the proof of service and take the copy and the original to your county clerk.

Do I Need an Attorney for Service of Process?

If you are initiating a lawsuit, make sure that you closely follow the counsel of your personal injury attorney. Your attorney should arrange for the other side to be properly served.

There are many local agencies that specialize in process serving for a small fee. If you already have an attorney handling your case, the service of process would usually be included in the representation.