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Methods of Serving Process

Process serving is the act of delivering court summons and other relevant documents to those who are party to a legal dispute. Process service is an important part of the legal system, providing both sides with the opportunity to present their side of the story in a court of law. Consequently, there are specific laws and procedures that guide the act of serving process. Many of these regulations are concerned with the method in which the papers are served. Here is a guide to the most common means of serving process.

Hand Delivery
The best means of serving process is hand delivery of the papers. This is generally accomplished by the process server's visiting the recipient's home or workplace. In an ideal situation, the recipient will willingly accept the service. However, things do not always go as planned.

The intended recipient may be reluctant to receive process. In this case, the process server may need to employ such tactics as surprise, serving the papers in an unusual location. Again, the process server is governed by federal, state and local laws as well as procedural regulations.

Substituted Service
If the process server is unable to hand deliver the paperwork to the intended recipient, some jurisdictions permit process to instead be served to a legal adult who lives with the recipient. In some areas, the papers must also be mailed to the intended recipient. Generally, substituted service is only permissible if the process server can demonstrate that the recipient was unavailable for service. He or she must also be able to show a reasonable expectation that the substituted service would be satisfactory.

Service by Mail
If the intended recipient is located in another state or a foreign country, service by mail may be sufficient. Be sure that you understand the relevant laws and procedures before attempting service by mail.

Service to Registered Agent
As a general rule, corporations are required to maintain registered agents in those states in which they do business. The registered agent is a third party that is legally permitted to conduct business matters, including receipt of process service, on behalf of the company. If you have a legal dispute against a corporation, determine whether that company has a registered agent in your state.

Service by Publication
If an intended recipient simply cannot be found, process service may, in some jurisdictions, be conducted by publication. In this case, notice is printed in a local publication, which is generally a daily newspaper. There are generally very specific regulations in place regarding service by publication, in order to protect the rights of the defendant. If you are considering service by publication, be certain that you understand the relevant laws and procedures.

The Bottom Line
Process service is an extremely important step in the legal process. It is heavily regulated in order to ensure that the defendant's rights are protected. Hand delivery is always the best means of process service. However, it is not always possible to use this method. Other means of process service are provided for by law, although extremely strict guidelines generally govern their use. If you need to serve process on someone who cannot be found, carefully consider other available options. Seek legal advice from a qualified attorney when necessary. In this way, you can prevent poor service of process from damaging the court case.

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