The law says that when you sue a person, partnership, corporation, or the government, you must give formal notice to the other side that you have started the legal process. In the same way, when you are already involved in a case and file papers with the court, you are required to give the other side notice of the paperwork you have filed. The legal way to give formal notice is to have the other side “served” with a copy of the paperwork that you have filed with the court. This is called “service of process.”
"Service of process" means that the other side must get copies of any paper you file with the court. In “service of process” a third person (NOT you) is the one who actually delivers the paperwork to the other side. The person who does this is called the “server” or “process server.”
Until the other side has been properly "served," the judge cannot make any permanent orders or judgments.
The “server” or “process server” can be:
- A friend or relative;
- A coworker;
- A county sheriff or marshal;
- A professional process server; or
- Anyone over 18 who is NOT part of the case.
In all cases, the “server” or “process server” MUST:
- Be 18 years old or older;
- Not be a party to the case;
- 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; and
- Return the proof of service to you so you can file it with the court.
Remember, it is very important that you, if you are the plaintiff/petitioner or defendant/respondent, do NOT serve your own papers.
Note: If you hire a process server, give them a photo of the person they have to serve (if you have one) and a list of times and places when it will be easy to find that person. Look for a process server who is close to where the other side lives or works. Fees are often based on how far the server has to travel. So this will save you money.
Types of service
There are several ways to serve papers. The information here about the types of service is general. Not all of them are allowed in all cases, or at all stages of a case. So, for your type of case, only some of these types of service may be allowed. The individual sections on this Online Self-Help Center will tell you what types of service are allowed in your case.
Service can be complicated and it is VERY important. If it is not done right, you will not be able to move forward with your case. If you are not sure how you must serve your paperwork, ask your court’s small claims legal advisor.