How to handle being served by a legal process server

Our court system requires accusing parties to “serve” a notification to the defendant named in a complaint. It’s a necessary and foundational element of your rights and the rights of others.

However, if you have never been pursued by a legal process server, then the whole experience can be frightening and embarrassing.

In this article, we are going to address some of the most common concerns and questions that people experience as they attempt to navigate the legal landscape. We have also included possible actions that can be taken after you have been served.

Don’t Avoid the Person Trying to Serve You

If someone is seeking to sue you, divorce you, obtain child support or numerous other legal issues, he or she is required to serve the documents at home or work.

Usually, a process server is hired to track you down and serve the papers in a legal and ethical manner. Nevertheless, if you know that someone is wanting to serve you, you might be tempted to avoid the process server.

Many people mistakenly believe this can prevent the lawsuit from moving forward; that’s just simply not true. Sure, it makes things somewhat difficult for the person suing you. However, they will have the opportunity to prove to a judge that they have made all reasonable attempts to contact you.

The judge can decree that the documents may be left at your home or business with any person over the age of 18. Similarly, a judge may allow the summons to be mailed to your house or business address via certified mail. If either of these methods stops working,

If those attempts do not work, then the judge might permit the plaintiff to post the service in local papers!

No One Likes to Be Served at Work and that’s OK

Be served at work is no doubt awkward. While your process server will make every attempt to make the situation as comfortable as possible, there are situations that exist where you will be served at work.

Perhaps your schedules aren’t lining up or you reside in a secured-access home and the server can’t get to your door. In other cases, it’s the only address they might have for you. Either way, he or she will do his or her best to be professional and discreet at your place of business.

Be Sure You Were Properly Served

The documents being served are usually called “summons papers,” which need to inform the defendant:

  1. He or she has been named in a court proceeding
  2. Where the venue is and in what jurisdiction
  3. A list of the alleged accusations
  4. The contact information of the plaintiff’s lawyer or pro se litigant details, and
  5. The amount of time that you will have to respond to the lawsuit

If the documents are not properly served, it can place the entire lawsuit in jeopardy due to negligent service.

File An Answer within the Appropriate Time Period

An “answer” is the formal and written response to the documents served upon you or a loved one.  Defendants will have an opportunity to admit or deny the allegations, in whole or in part

The answer may be comprised of what are known as “affirmative defenses” that consist of claims which oppose the complaint or contain legal theories that are intended to challenge the claims in the complaint. In some cases, the answer is in the form of a “general denial,” i.e. rejecting everything. The response should be formatted and conformed to local rules, as well as follow specific guidelines of pleadings developed by the courts.

The summons should be served upon you within a specific period of time. This period of time is generally within 30 days of filing the complaint. In some courts and jurisdictions, there is a relatively steep filing fee for submitting an answer.

In short, if you are served a complaint, an answered should be filed in a timely manner to avoid a default judgment.

When in Doubt, Talk It Out… with A Licensed Attorney

The proper service of legal documents will trigger important deadlines, and you should take action before those deadlines pass. If you do not take proper action within those timeframes, you lose the right to fight the lawsuit– even if the claim has no merit.

You need to immediately notify your lawyer about the notice, motion, or subpoena so that he or she can determine the important looming deadlines, as well as the lawful response.

2 thoughts on “How to handle being served by a legal process server

  • April 4, 2019 at 1:59 PM

    That’s good to know that avoiding the server won’t get you out of being sued. I always thought that if you weren’t served that you didn’t have to go to court. Hopefully, that never happens but now I know that I should just let the server give me the summons.

  • March 6, 2019 at 5:19 PM

    Excellent advice for handling a summons, especially the warning on avoiding service of summons. I would add that an answer isn’t always the best initial response to a lawsuit. One may also choose a motion to dismiss first, even when it lacks merit, because the defendant needs time to analyze the complaint and prepare a proper answer. At Courtroom5, we recommend 9 specific steps to follow when you’ve been served –

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