What is Service of Process? 

Jul 14, 2020 8 min read

You’ve probably heard of service of process at some point in your life, but you may wonder, “What is service of process?” In practice, 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 documents 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 the provided timeframe if they disagree with those claims.

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

The law requires service of process 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 legal 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. Now that we’ve answered the question of, “What is service of process?”, we can focus on who can act as a process server.

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 own legal documents 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 Legal Service of Process?

The law provides methods and rules to determine the proper options of service and how to execute them.

There are several ways to serve legal documents, and the use of each method 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 and 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 documents to them, and informs the person that they are legal or court documents. The service will be valid even if the defendant 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 documents are served.


Substituted Service

Substituted service is used where previous attempts at personal service have failed. The availability and options for service vary from state to state, but all methods ensure that the defendant/respondent know of the case in court against them.

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

In some states, when performing substituted service, the process server must mail the documents to the party being served in addition to leaving the physical documents with an appropriate person in-residence. 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 confirming 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.

A court may allow service to take place by mail. Usually, copies of the legal documents are mailed to the defendant’s residence or are sent to the defendant’s mailing address of record via certified, registered or express mail. In most states, service by mail is not considered effective unless the party who is served signs a receipt for the legal documents.

Service by publication involves publishing court documents 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 documents 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 years of age or older 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 legal documents 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 third-party rule and are masters of the complex 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 are here to answer the question of, “What is process of service?” and provide you with a service of process definition, as well as answer any other inquiries you may have surrounding process of service. 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 legal documents 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 documents 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.

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Written by

ABC Legal Team
With more than 2,000 process servers across the U.S. and 75 countries, ABC Legal is the nation’s leading service of process and court filing provider, as well as the Acting Central Authority to the U.S. Department of Justice. Our digital approach saves valuable time and resources, and our cloud-based solutions are compatible for use on desktop, browser, and smartphones. Docketly — an ABC Legal subsidiary — provides appearance counsel on a digital, custom-built platform that smoothly integrates with our applications and services. Learn more at www.abclegal.com

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