Why Do People Get Served?

“You got served!” You have likely heard this in many movies or TV shows—but what exactly does it mean?

People get served when they are defendants or respondents to a lawsuit. They are served paperwork, a copy of the lawsuit, or a subpoena to appear in court.

In the case of a lawsuit, whether criminal or civil, being served means the defendant has been notified about legal action—it is a crucial part of the due process. With this notice, they are alerted of the scheduled court appearance and can prepare for the case.

Once all parties are served, only then can the court proceed with the case.


Who Serves the Paperwork?

Legal paperwork must only be served by a third party, not the petitioner or plaintiff. The person serving the papers is called a process server.

The process server must be at least 18 years old and should not be a party to the case, although they can be a friend, relative, or co-worker of the petitioner. Petitioners often hire private process servers to serve papers.

The process of serving paperwork is as follows:

1. Get Information About the Defendant

The petitioner will give the process server information about the defendant, including where they could be served: home address, workplace, and other areas they frequent.

2. Serve the Papers

The process server will track down the defendant and give them the documents. According to process servers, they don’t say, “You got served.” In most cases, they just confirm if the person is the defendant on record and hand them the paperwork.

3. Fill Out Proof of Service

When the process server accomplishes the task, they fill out a form as proof they have served the papers. The form contains the name of the person served and the date, time, and place of serving. They should also provide a summary of how the documents were served.

4. Return the Proof of Service

The proof of service is evidence that the paperwork reached the other party. It will then be filed in court.


What If Defendant Refuses to Be Served?

Most people get served without incident. However, some defendants refuse to accept the paperwork, often with the erroneous mindset that if they don’t get handed the papers, the case cannot proceed.

If process servers encounter a belligerent recipient, they can resort to the following:

  • Certified Mail – Process servers can send paperwork through Certified Mail, which provides receipt of delivered documents.
  • Get Served at Work – When defendants are not at home, the process server can deliver paperwork to their work address.
  • Substitute Service – Paperwork is delivered to the defendant’s parents, partner, adult child, or roommate. Note that the process server needs permission from the court to resort to this.
  • Nail and Mail – The process server can also ask a judge to allow them to post or nail the document on the defendant’s door. Another copy should be mailed to the defendant’s address.


Importance of Getting Served

Due process is a crucial element of the legal system. Defendants and respondents should allow process servers to do their job and serve them with paperwork. Being served means they are aware of the legal issues they are facing, and they can appear in court as scheduled.


Superior Court of California – County of San Diego. Serving Documents. 2021 https://www.sdcourt.ca.gov/sdcourt/generalinformation/servingdocuments

California Courts. Service of Court Papers. 2022


The foregoing podcast has simply been presented for informational purposes only. He or those at Lafayette Process Servers LLC, are not attorneys.  Process serving laws and rules of civil procedure are different from state to state. If you seek further information about this topic, please make sure to contact an attorney in your local area


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