When a civil case is filed in court, the defendant must be served with court papers. These include a copy of the complaint and a summons to appear in court at a specified date and time. The person that serves court papers is known as the process server, and may be a constable or a sheriff.
When someone files a claim or a petition with the court, such as a lawsuit for damages to personal property or seeking a divorce, the other parties named in the document must be served with court papers. This means that documents related to the case, such as a copy of the complaint and a summons to appear in court, must be delivered to each named individual to ensure that he understands the case being brought against him and has time to respond appropriately and to secure legal counsel.
One of the most common questions that plaintiffs in this position ask is: How to find a person to serve court papers? In order to serve someone with court papers, the plaintiff or the court must first know that person's whereabouts.
Who Can Serve Court Papers?
In a legal case, the person that serves court papers is not the petitioner. A third party who does not have a vested interest in the case must be the one to serve the defendant with court papers. The individual tasked with serving court papers is known as a process server. This role can be held by a number of individuals, including a:
- Private process server.
- Court-approved adult who has no personal stake in the case.
How to Find Someone to Serve Court Papers
When the plaintiff knows where the defendant lives or works, how to find a person to serve court papers is simple. The process server personally serves the court papers at the defendant's home or place of business, or mails the documents directly to her home or workplace. Some states impose restrictions on when and where a defendant can be served court papers. For example, a defendant in Florida cannot be served with court papers at her home on a Sunday.
Resources that plaintiffs use to determine where a defendant lives or works include:
- Public residence records.
- Social media.
- Company websites.
- Mutual friends and relatives.
An individual cannot get out of his legal obligations by avoiding the person that is trying to serve him with court papers. If the defendant cannot be contacted or located through good faith efforts using traditional methods, the court may allow the plaintiff to serve him via alternative methods like publication or substitute service.
Strategies for Serving a Person With Court Papers
There are many methods for serving a person with court papers. One of the most common of these is to hand-deliver the documents. Another common method for serving a person with court papers is to send the documents via certified mail. Once the plaintiff receives confirmation from the process server that the documents have been mailed, she files an Affidavit of Service with the court.
If the defendant continually avoids attempts to serve the court papers, the plaintiff may use a strategy known as substituted service_._ The laws governing substituted service vary slightly from state to state, but in all cases it is the practice of leaving court documents at the defendant’s home or workplace while an adult witness is present. The witness must be told that the documents are court papers for the defendant. When this method is used, additional copies of the court documents are then mailed to the defendant on the same day.
When the defendant cannot be located at all, the plaintiff may opt to serve the court documents via publication. Serving a person with court papers by publication is allowed only when the plaintiff has court approval to do so. Once service by publication is approved, a sworn oath that the court has tried to locate the defendant along with a notice for her to appear in court are published in a local newspaper.