Service of Process

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“You’ve been served!”  Those are words that many people hope never to hear.  This begs the question: what does it mean to be “served.”

When someone has been served, this is actually referring to a legal procedure called Service of Process.  Service of Process is when someone is presented with documents that are a part of a legal proceeding.

Service of Process is one procedure that is required for the initiation of a lawsuit.  After one party, the plaintiff, files a lawsuit with the court, they are then required to serve certain legal documents onto the other party or parties named in the lawsuit.  The initial documents served through Service of Process are called the summons and complaint.  These describe who is part of the lawsuit, what the lawsuit is about, and other general descriptions.

Service of Process is a very important procedure because it basically informs all parties that there is a lawsuit in which they have been named.  This is called providing notice.  Once a party has been served with legal documents, it gives them a chance to prepare and respond.  After a successful service of process, the party served is officially part of the legal proceeding. If Service of Process does not occur, or even if it does not occur correctly, this could be a reason for the court to dismiss the lawsuit.

The exact manner in which a person is served with documents can vary depending on the laws of the jurisdiction.  There are very specific rules about what actually constitutes a valid service of process.  For example, leaving the document on someone’s doorstep may not be considered valid, depending on the circumstances. Typically, Service of Process is valid only if it is handed directly to the person for whom the documents were intended.  However, because actually reaching the person may not be as easy as it seems, there are many different exceptions.  For example, it may be a valid service of process if the documents were handed to someone who lives in the same household as the person.  This type of service of process is called sub-service.  In the case of sub-service, there is usually an age requirement for the person who can accept the documents, however, this will vary by state.  Additionally, if service of process has been attempted several times in person, many states provide exceptions for service of process to occur by mail.  However, this can usually only occur if the court grants this permission after several failed attempts to serve someone personally. There may even be extenuating circumstances in which a court allows service of process to occur by publishing a notice in a publication if other attempts have failed.

If one of the parties is a business, services of process may not be as easy as handing to the first employee you see.  Businesses usually have a registered agent, who is authorized to accept service of process.  If you are looking to serve a business, you can find out who the authorized agent is by looking at the corporate records.

For service of process to occur, it cannot be performed by anyone who is a member of the lawsuit.  Depending on the jurisdiction, a court official, such as a sheriff may be able to perform service of process.  There are also many Service of Process companies that provide this service for a fee.

After a successful service of process, the serving party is usually required to file a signed document with the court acknowledging that the service occurred. This document, or affidavit, will become a part of the official court record.

To find laws related to Service of Process in your area, or for other court related information, visit

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