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Serving Process on Special Populations

MINORS, PRISONERS, LEGALLY INCOMPETENT, THOSE LIVING ABROAD

Service of process is a fairly straightforward procedure in which court summons and other legal documentation is delivered to those who are party to a legal proceeding. The laws surrounding process service vary between jurisdictions, but are not inherently complicated. However, if process must be served on a member of a special population, then additional laws and procedures will apply. Although these laws will vary between jurisdictions, provided here is a basic guide to serving special populations. Be sure to seek advice from a qualified attorney to determine the laws in your area.

Minors
In most jurisdictions, minors who have ever been married are treated as adults for purposes of serving process. Unmarried minors, however, are usually served in one of two ways. Service may be made on the minor's parent or legal guardian, following the traditional procedures of service. Alternatively, if a Guardian ad Litem has been assigned to the minor, service may be made on that person instead. Many states consider the minimum age to be served personally to be much lower than the commonly accepted age of majority. For example, in Alabama personal service may be made on minors aged 12 or older, while in New Jersey the minimum age is 14. Since the laws vary so widely between jurisdictions, it is important to seek qualified legal advice in your area before attempting to serve process on a minor.



Prisoners
In most jurisdictions, service of process on someone who is incarcerated is done by personal service during visiting hours. The process server must pass the relevant documents to the prisoner while verbally stating that he or she is being served. In the case of an incarcerated minor who is under the legal age for personal service in your area, service is normally made upon the minor's parent or legal guardian following normal procedures for service. Again, the laws regarding service on prisoners may vary, so it is important to seek legal advice before proceeding.

Legally Incompetent
The laws for serving process on those who have been judged legally incompetent are often similar to those regarding service on minors. If the recipient has been confined to an institution, service may often be made on a director of the institution. If the recipient is not institutionalized and does not have a named guardian, it may be acceptable to serve process on the recipient's caregiver or other person known to take some responsibility for the individual. However, laws vary between jurisdictions, so it is important to consult an attorney before serving process on someone who is legally incompetent.

The Bottom Line
Service of process on members of unusual populations may be governed by special laws and procedures. It is important to remember that process service is designed to protect the Constitutional rights of those who are served. Therefore, when serving process on someone who is a member of a special population, you must be careful to follow all applicable laws. It is always best to seek advice from a qualified attorney in your area before attempting to serve process on a member of a group with which you are unfamiliar.



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