Service of Process and Methods of Service

Jul 14, 2020 9 min read

What is Service of Process?

Service of Process is what happens soon after you hear or utter the words; “You’ll hear from my lawyer”. Remarks like “I’ll sue you” or “I’ll see you in court” are also very likely, but that’s not important.

The important thing is that the party filing a lawsuit must deliver notice of the lawsuit and necessary legal papers to the other party. Otherwise, the case cannot proceed. This is how the other party knows what the claims are against them, and what they must do within time if they disagree with those claims. 

“Process” describes the legal papers used to start a lawsuit. These include a summons to inform the defendant of the case against him, and a complaint detailing the allegations of wrongdoing. Process serving upholds the constitutional right of citizens to the due notice of summons issued against them. 

The law requires process serving to occur at the start of a lawsuit. Parties must also “serve” each other copies of documents filed while the suit is underway, but those rules are different and less formal. Service must be done properly and within a reasonable time so that the court can assert its jurisdiction over the parties. 

The law actively regulates the service of process, and prescribes the What? How? When? and Who? This guarantees that process serving can be technical and damaging if it is not done right.  Where service is not according to law, the court may vacate the judgment or have the case dismissed. 

Who can “Serve”?

Depending on your state, anybody could serve process as long as they are citizens or a lawful resident, over the age of 18 and are not connected to the lawsuit in any way. Parties to the lawsuit cannot serve their papers but may do so through a friend, relative, coworker, a County Sheriff or Marshal, or a professional (third-party) process server like ABC Legal Services.

The process server must be able to serve the paperwork within the time required and provide proof of service.

What are accepted options for service of process?

There are many problems with process serving; one being that the average John Doe will try to evade service. So, the law provides methods and rules to determine the proper options of service and how to execute them. 

There are several ways to serve papers, and their use may depend on the type of cases or kind of court. Generally, service of processes may occur via:

Actual or Personal Service

Personal service involves in-hand delivery of the paperwork to the defendant, face-to-face. It is the oldest method since it is the traditional way to serve process. It is also the most reliable because it is effective, direct, and difficult to contradict. 

ABC Legal Service of Process

It occurs when the process server identifies the defendant/respondent, hands the papers to him, and informs him that they are court papers. The service will be valid even if he refuses to take the papers in hand, tears them up or throws them away. 

For this form of service to hold up in court, the server must fill out a proof of service, detailing the time, place, method of service and additional supplemental details. The server signs the proof of service and returns it to the claimant/appellant to file in court. Personal service is deemed complete on the day the papers are served. 

Substituted Service

Substituted service is used where previous attempts at personal service have failed. This use varies from state to state, but all operate to ensure that the defendant/respondents knows of the case in court against him. 

For some states, the process server may leave court papers at the defendant's home with someone who lives there and is old enough to understand what it means to accept service. (In Oregon, the age is 14). Other states direct that the papers be attached to the entrance of his home or place of business, and a copy mailed to him at his last known address. 

Some other states accept service by mail to the defendant’s actual address. Depending on the laws of each state, substituted service may also be permitted at any time or after a single attempt at personal service. The time within which it is deemed completed also vary from state to state. 

Usually, substituted Service will not hold up in court unless proof is filed with the court that the in-person delivery to someone at their home and the mailed notice were both done.


Alternative Service

If service is impossible by personal or substituted means, some states permit service of process by “Alternative Service”. But it must be approved by a judge in advance. 

The court will then need to decide what means will ensure that the defendant receives actual notice of the lawsuit. Alternative service may be by mail, or by publication, or by post.

If a defendant is away at a place outside the jurisdiction of the court, the court may in the alternative permit service by mail. This is usually done by mailing the court papers to the defendant’s home or mailing address by certified, registered, or express mail. A copy is then mailed to the defendant's home address by regular/first-class mail. In most states, service is not effective unless the served party signs the receipt. 

Service by publication involves publishing court papers on generally read newspaper in the county where the case is pending and/or where the defendant/respondent lives. It is usually used where the defendant’s address is unknown or he cannot be found. It is used only with a judge’s approval. 

In eviction cases, some states permit process serving by posting on the premises at issue in the eviction and also mailing. Service by posting and mailing is used after several attempts to serve the papers have failed. In some states, the party who posted the notice will need to sign and file a form with the court setting out when he or she posted the notice and removed it. 

You will NEED a process server! 

Depending on the jurisdiction friends, relatives or co-workers (as long they are +18 and neutral third parties) can help you serve process. A county sheriff or marshal in the county where the other party is situated may also serve the papers for a fee. The problem is that these people almost always make mistakes that will delay your case and cost you in the end.

Hiring a registered process server like ABC Legal guarantees you quick, efficient and professional work in serving your process. These process servers meet the neutral 3rd-party rule and are masters of the complex process serving process. 

Because they have the know-how, technology that provides supplemental data for a bulletproof service, and the artificial intelligence (AI) to guarantee timely delivery to the best serviceable address, and they can help skirt the many pitfalls of process serving. It is also a handy benefit that they have the resources to track down “missing” defendants, and fast track the whole process. 

Why should you select ABC Legal Services?

With ABC Legal Process servers, you can’t go wrong. We serve process in every jurisdiction nationwide, we simplify the process and guarantee bulletproof service that holds up in any court. 

Our extensive network of process servers gives us an edge over any competitor.

We will help you serve any document, anywhere. 

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Even if your case is domestic and most of your cases are in your home state, you never know when the time will come that you may need to serve papers internationally. ABC Legal has relationships with process servers in 76 countries including Canada, Mexico, Australia, Belarus, Malaysia, South Africa, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Kenya. Your papers will be properly served under the following conventions:

ABC Legal is trusted by the United States Department of Justice, and is proud to be contracted as their exclusive central authority for all foreign service of process coming into the United States. You can count on trained and expert staff and proprietary Legal Process as a Service (LPaaS) software to help you easily and inexpensively serve defendants in many parts of the World.  

About the Author

Sascha Mehlhase is the Vice President of Products and Innovation at ABC Legal Services. He oversees ABC Legal’s growing product, marketing and customer experience. With nearly 20 years of product and marketing experience in software and technology, Mehlhase has advanced product strategies and led global teams in a variety of industries. Most recently, as Senior Director of Product Management at Intrado, he oversaw their cloud-based telecom and communications platform as a service business and drove the company’s international product expansion into more than 170 countries. Sascha earned an MBA from Loyola University Chicago and a bachelor’s in social economics from Hamburg University in Germany.

About ABC Legal Services

ABC Legal is the nation’s leading service of process and court filing company and is the official process server to the U.S. Department of Justice. Docketly is a subsidiary of ABC Legal, providing appearance counsel on a digital, custom-built platform that smoothly integrates with our applications and services. ABC Legal’s applications are cloud-based and compatible for use on desktop, browser and smartphones. Our solutions and digital approach ensure process server partners, law firm customers and their clients save valuable time and resources when serving legal notices safely and with maximum compliance, control and transparency. ABC Legal is based in Seattle, WA, with more than 2,000 process servers throughout the U.S., as well as internationally in more than 75 countries. To learn more about ABC Legal, our solutions and subsidiary company Docketly visit

Sascha Mehlhase

Written by

Sascha Mehlhase
Vice President of Growth at ABC Legal. Sascha oversees ABC Legal’s growing product, marketing and customer success teams to transform ABC Legal into the best-in-class technology and service industry leader, while finding new ways to scale. With 20 years of experience in technology, he has advanced product strategies and led global teams in many industries.

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