Before filing a formal complaint or deciding to head to a courtroom against an individual, group, or corporation, then one of the first things you will need to do is have your papers served.
The legal process follows a strict method in accordance with the law, and this requires personnel that is highly trained to make this possible. Serving legal documents is the primary step, and this can be done through hiring a professional process server.
Though, this will also have its limitations on what a process server can and cannot do. Hiring a personal service to help with your legal documents will still require you to understand their own process, rules, and regulations.
Being a little knowledgeable about the jargon and the judicial process can help you understand the flow of the work that needs to be accomplished.
What is a Process Server?
A process server is a person that can serve legal documents to the defendants of the case. They are professionals that are skilled in tracking individuals and going through the required processes to successfully and legally deliver legal documents.
A professional process server has done this numerous times for a variety of clients. They understand the judicial processes in each state, as laws can sometimes vary depending on the jurisdiction where the case is being filed.
The process server will be someone that you will need when you want your case to be resolved as quickly as possible. They are an important part of the legal process and their work is wholly valuable to the judicial system in every country.
Who are Process Servers?
A process server is a professional job. They are licensed and certified to carry out to deliver papers. This is because delivering legal documents can be a meticulous task that demands knowing the state's laws, rules, and regulations.
Each state can vary in its processes, and process servers are experienced individuals who have studied these, as well as familiar with the area they are assigned to. Some jurisdictions, however, will allow sheriffs or local law enforcement to serve papers instead of a licensed process server.
Hiring a process server can be expensive because of the amount of work it will take to locate the defendants in the case. As in some instances, defendants can be more than one person.
Defendants in a case have no limit, and it is possible for a case to name corporations, a group, or an entity. If that is the case, a process server will need to serve papers to each entity named in the legal document.
What is a Service of Process?
Service of process is also known as process service. It is a legal process in the judicial system in the United States that's followed by each state.
The process service requirement before a case can proceed, as all those mentioned in the case need to be notified that they are being summoned to court or that someone has filed a complaint against them.
The court cannot proceed without a hearing and everyone, even a corporation or partners, must receive that notice.
In the process, service is where a process server will be needed. Since the process service includes the delivery of legal documents to the individuals, the process server is then hired or required by the court to deliver the notices.
Serving legal documents is the main task of the process service, and this cannot be skipped or overlooked.
Who Hires Process Servers?
If you are someone that's filing a case or the person filing a complaint against a person, group, or corporation, then you have the liberty to hire a personal service to process your papers. In some areas, there are independent process servers that are available for hire.
Since sheriffs or local enforcement may also be able to serve papers, the court may ask these individuals to be the process servers instead if you are unable to hire a personal service or your legal team does not have a professional process server in their establishment.
There are also reputable legal services that you can employ as you file your case. These legal services will have ready process servers that can quickly do the job. A process server within a legal firm will be licensed and certified. The firm will be able to ensure that its team will be able to deliver the documents required with ease, professionalism, and timeliness.
Are Process Servers Legal?
As the process service is a required process in the United States' judicial system, process servers are legal in all states. As mentioned above, process servers are licensed and they are certified by the law to be able to serve legal documents in jurisdictions required.
Since process servers can also be from local law enforcement, then it is wholly part of the legal processes. However, while process servers are tasked to deliver the documents to those listed in the case, they still need to follow proper guidelines and the laws of the state to deliver the papers properly and legally.
This is why professionals are usually hired to be process servers to avoid the rare possibility of making a mistake and causing the case to be forfeited because of legal errors made in delivering the documents.
Does a Process Server Need to Be Licensed?
In most legal firms, a process server is licensed and registered. In some states in the United States, like in New York, they will require a process server to have a license to be able to operate.
Some states simply need a certification or registration for a process server to be hired by the firm or by the court. The court can also simply have local law enforcement be the process server if it is not required by the state or by the case to hire a licensed professional process server.
In countries like Canada, licensed or certification for a process server isn't necessarily required. But they will require a professional that's knowledgeable about the process service in that area.
What is a Process Server not Allowed to Do?
A professional process server will already know the dos and don'ts of the service of the process. With their experience, especially if they belong to a reputable legal firm, they are already aware of the rules they must follow in accordance with the laws of the state.
Here are most of the things a process server will not be allowed to do, no matter the jurisdiction and whatever the state they have to deliver the documents to.
Breaking and Entering
Most of the time, a process server will be required to go to the residences of the defendants named in the case. If the case is serious or something of severe consequences, then it will be possible for defendants or those mentioned in the case to avoid accepting the notices during the service of process.
It is not uncommon for defendants to completely avoid accepting the papers or to ignore the knock on their doors when process servers come to deliver. However, if this happens, the process server cannot result in breaking and entering to deliver any documents.
A process server must follow the legal process and abide by the standing laws of the state, including those that state breaking and entering. Criminal charges can still be filed against a process server that chooses this method.
If you are on the receiving end of the service process, you also need to remember that process servers are simply doing their job. They mean you no harm and they are not the ones that are out to get you for the case. Their job is to simply deliver papers to notify you of any summons.
By not accepting or granting the request of the process server to see you are only delaying the inevitable as justice still needs to be served in any court filing. It is best to accept the notices as soon as you are able and be present during the judicial process to avoid complicating the matter.
Pretending to Be Someone Else
While a process server needs to be able to deliver their papers promptly, and these papers need to be accepted by the party in question, they cannot commit fraud.
Pretending to be someone that they are not just to get the papers accepted by the individual, group, or corporation is illegal. It's okay for a process server to find a creative way to be able to deliver the papers, but they cannot do so illegally by using deception as a tactic.
False identity is against the law and a process server must serve under the judicial process and the laws of the country.
If the process server is working as a professional process server and not as an assigned individual from law enforcement, then they cannot pretend to be from law enforcement or tell people that they are police officers. It is illegal to pretend to be a police officer, even if it is for the sake of delivering legal documents for a case.
They Cannot Trespass
A process server still needs to follow the signs in any building or residential area. Like breaking and entering, simply trespassing is not the way to proceed with delivering any documents.
While these rules make it challenging for a process server to do their job, there can still be creative ways for a process server to use to be able to achieve their duty without breaking any laws.
Defendants in the case or the people subject to the service of the process still have their rights. It's important for process servers to respect their boundaries and know the limitations of how they can successfully deliver the notices.
Threaten Any Individuals
The duty of a process server can sometimes be dangerous and complicated. It's a tough task to deliver documents to people who may not want to go to court or deal with the severity of the issues.
Despite this, a process server must remain composed and relaxed throughout any possible altercation that may happen. Even if the process may take a while, especially when people are in hiding or may tend to have a negative reaction to the notice, the process server should maintain their professionalism.
Thus, it's vital that they cannot result in illegal means, such as threatening the individual to accept the papers. They cannot use force or threatening words, even if they may not mean it, to have the individuals open the door to their house, office, or vehicle. Blackmailing is considered threatening an individual and it puts the defendant at risk and in danger.
If you are on the receiving end of receiving papers and this happens to you or you have had experience in the mishandling of delivering the documents, then the process server assigned may not be a professional process server and you are allowed to file a complaint.
Leave Documents in the Mailbox
In the United States, only the U.S. Postal Service is allowed to deliver mail through the mailbox. The process server is not allowed to touch the mailbox, open it, or place any documents inside this.
Though the papers are for legal and court purposes, they are still not allowed to make use of the mailbox.
Deliver the Documents During a Day of Religious Practice
Some parties may have specific days or holidays that they practice because of their religion. Catholics and Christians for example consider this to be a Holy Day, and some states will prohibit process servers to deliver documents during this period.
There are also some religions that practice prayer during specific times of the day. A process server cannot force papers on someone conducting their religious practice and they must respect their beliefs at all times.
The process servers are required to wait for a day that the individual is available. Legal firms would already know this information on the parties involved through research by the process server with the use of publicly accessible resources.
There are also some states that do not allow holidays in general to be a day for deliveries.
What is a Process Server Allowed to Do?
If you are on the receiving end of the notice or you are someone who wants to deliver the notice for a court hearing, then knowing what a process server is allowed to do is also an important piece of information to have.
A process server's job is difficult and you must be understanding of their duties and the patience they need to get the job done.
These are what a process server may be allowed to do while still following the right protocols and following the laws of the state.
Delivering to Kin of Legal Age
The person that needs to receive the notice will most commonly be living with family members. These family members can accept the papers on behalf of the defendant as their representative.
However, the family member must be above the age of 18 to legally accept the documents. Therefore, children of the person may accept the papers as long as they are of legal age.
If the case is required to notify a corporation or an entity, and not necessarily an individual person, then they can also deliver the papers to the office under their employment, like an assistant or an officer under their workplace. This is noted as being accepted and as long as the papers get addressed.
Wait Outside Your Home or Establishment
While the process server may not be allowed to commit trespassing, breaking, or entering, they are allowed to wait in the legal premises of your residence.
A process server must get creative at their job and it takes an enormous amount of patience. It is also uncommon for individuals to be away when documents need to be delivered to their homes. They may be on vacation in a different country or away on business in another state.
The process server may not know the details of their departure and may need to wait outside their homes if there is no one available to accept the papers on their behalf.
As this doesn't cross the lines of illegally being on someone's property, the process server may be allowed to do a stakeout and wait until the person arrives for them to accept the papers. They may wait hours or days, depending on the process server and their availability.
During this time, the process server should only be allowed within the area that's legal for them to be in and will not subject them to trespassing within the area of the person's home or office space.
What Legal Documents Can a Process Server Handle?
A process server has multiple papers they can deliver. Arm yourself with the knowledge of what they are allowed to deliver, so you may be also aware of what you are allowed to receive when a process server comes knocking on your door.
Here are some of the papers, but not limited to, that a process server may be allowed to serve:
Subpoenas, court orders, divorce documents, affidavits, summons, complaints, financial statements, a notice of action, a notice of motion, eviction notices, foreclosure documents, bank levies, custody documents, and many more.
A process server handles many documents for the legal process. They are familiar with the processes of each and in the jurisdiction, the complaint is filed. There are plenty of other documents that a process server may deliver, but the ones listed here are the most common.
Can You Serve Papers Yourself?
No. You cannot serve the papers yourself if you are involved in the case or if you are the person that filed a complaint against a person, corporation, or entity.
If you want to be able to serve papers yourself, then you must not be involved in the case whatsoever and your name is not mentioned at all in any of the documents. You must also be professionally licensed or certified, depending on the state, to be able to serve any form of legal document.
Not everyone can be a process server, it requires a professional and someone familiar with the laws of the state and the country as a whole. It cannot be a random individual, friend, family, or yourself if you want to deliver important documents that involve a court order.
The reason for this limitation is to protect both parties and their rights and to ensure that the laws, rules, and regulations are followed properly and promptly. Delivering documents yourself may be dangerous and overcomplicate the case, as well as potentially damaging to the judicial process that you want to happen.
Be mindful of this and always trust a professional when it comes to the judiciary system. If you're the person receiving the papers, it is within your right to know that the person delivering the papers to you is a licensed professional and not a random person unfamiliar with the service of process.
What Happens If a Process Server Cannot Deliver the Documents?
As discussed earlier in this article, it is uncommon for people to avoid seeing the process server or be unavailable to receive the documents in person. It does happen frequently when a process server may be unable to complete the task in delivering the documents to individuals or groups of people in the case.
If this happens, then the firm or the personal service has the legal ability to file certain motions to continue the delivery of documents.
Motion for Substituted Service
It will still be the primary task for the process server to deliver the documents in person. But no matter what form of creative ways or strategy the process server may take, sometimes it can be impossible to completely wait out the individual in the case.
The process server, firm, or personal service may be able to file a motion for substituted service. This motion must be filed in front of a judge, and the judge needs to determine if the motion can be executed if truly all methods of delivering the papers are impossible.
After the judge has approved the motion, then the process server may use other means to deliver the documents without necessarily having to do it in person. These methods include the following:
Emailing the documents. It's important to remember that a process server cannot do this method without first filing for the motion for substituted service. They must always try to deliver the documents in person before resulting in this method.
If the firm or the personal service has the available contact information of the persons indicated in the document, they may begin e-mailing them of the notice.
Leaving the document on their doors. If no one is available to answer the door or the person may be deliberately avoiding answering the knocks or doorbells, then the process server may pin the documents on their doors instead for them to see. They will not need to wait for them to answer or to accept the documents in person.
Snail mailing the documents.
Though the process server may still be unable to put the documents themselves in the mailbox, they may still mail the documents for the postal service to deliver. This process may take a lot longer than most of the methods, however, it will still be helpful to the parties to exhaust all possible options available.
Publication of Notice
If other methods have been exhausted, sometimes the process server and the court will be forced to use other alternative methods to get the attention of the individual or corporation.
This method is to publicly publish the notice of summons on newspapers or social media. Using this method will be able to notice more national attention. If friends or family members see this, they may help in informing the right parties.
This method is usually the last resort of the firm and of the process server, as it is still within the right of privacy of the parties involved with the case. However, if the party involved is deliberately avoiding the summons and the notice, then this is the action that will be required for the firm to take.
Now, because of social media, it's easier for this notice to be shared. People can easily tag the parties involved, making it quicker for the parties to be notified if they have not been able to receive prior notices.
It is highly recommended that those receiving the documents cooperate with the servers and with the case filed against them. Prolonging the process deliberately will result in issues that can further move against the defendants.
How Long Does the Process Service Take?
The service of the process has varying durations. If the process is smooth and all parties are easily located and cooperative with the process server, then the duration can take to a week at most.
There are instances when the service of process can take up to 48 hours, especially if there is online one person listed in the document. However, if there are multiple parties involved—especially those involving a large corporation or a large group of people or entities—then the process can take as long as necessary.
This is because the process server has no limit to the parties they can deliver the documents to. In turn, a court order has no limit in who can serve as a defendant of the case or as a witness of the case. If there are large groups involved, then the process can take to a month at most or sooner if everyone is cooperative with the judicial process.
How Much Does the Process Service Cost?
Process server fees can change depending on the individual, service, or firm hired. Personal service or an independent process server can cost hundreds of dollars. Extra costs may be incurred depending on the difficulty of the job or the number of documents that need to be delivered.
The difficulty of the job may be computed by looking at the amount of investigation it will require the process server to do. If the case is a serious matter or an issue of severity, then it becomes a possibility that the person they need to serve papers to may be uncooperative.
The process server needs to evaluate the possibilities of uncooperative parties or the location of the individuals involved, especially if it will involve travel or long hours or days waiting for the individual to accept the papers. Be prepared for the changing costs depending on the outcome during the process itself.
Hiring a legal firm or a service with groups of process servers under their belt, then the cost may be included with your overall legal fees. This is a recommended approach as legal firms will have all the services available to you before and after the papers have been served.