How Do You Serve Someone If You Can’t Find Them?

Most people are fairly easy to find if you look their names up online, but not everyone is. There are people who, either intentionally or unintentionally, are very difficult to locate. This can be a problem if you have to serve them.

Below we talk about what happens if you need to serve someone and can’t for some reason. 

What Does It Mean to Serve Someone?

Being served means that you’ve been served notice that someone is taking legal action against you.

The term refers to someone handing you documents that let you know you’re being sued, for example. The documents might also let you know what you need to do to respond or what paperwork to file with the court so that you can defend yourself. There are other situations where someone might be served but letting them know about court proceedings against them is the main one. 

The reason to serve legal papers is so that it’s official that you’ve received notice. You’re given a chance to protect yourself from an unfair trial by being able to have enough time to prepare. 

Any civil case in most state courts requires that you formally serve the opposing party. For example, if you’re in the midst of a divorce or family law case and you’re the initiating parent or spouse, you serve paper on the other person letting them know about scheduled upcoming appointments with the court. 

A process server hand delivers papers to the person being served, and it can be done at home, work, or anywhere else that person goes often. 

A process server will then give proof of service to the courts. 

Sometimes, service can also come through certified mail. If this is the case, the person receiving the mail has to sign the form and then return it, acknowledging they’ve received the paperwork. 

A sheriff, marshal, or constable can serve someone, as can a private process server. Some states will allow service by an adult except for the person bringing the suit. 

What If Someone Is Avoiding Service?

There is a multitude of reasons someone might be trying to actively avoid accepting service. They might want to avoid the confrontation, delay the legal issue, or make things more difficult for the person who’s filed a case against them. 

There are a lot of ways people might try to avoid being served, including not answering the door or avoiding places they normally go. Some people will go as far as moving out of state, which is known as evasion of service, which is technically legal. 

What If Court Papers Can’t Be Served?

If a process server can’t serve papers to someone at their residence, then there may be other available options. 

It may require finding someone through social media, friends, family, or online search tools. The more personal information you know about someone, the easier it can be to find them in order to serve them. 

One of the last available resorts could be to go through the tax recorder or assessor’s office. 

So what if, after all this, you can’t serve someone? 

For the person being served against, hiding won’t make the issue go away. 

The preferred way to serve someone is through personal service, but it’s not the only option. 

Personal service is what was mentioned above when the process server hands documents over physically to someone. 

Even if you don’t accept them or sign an acknowledgment as the recipient, the service can still be completed. 

One option that might be available is to put a notice in a local newspaper. If a process server has made attempts to reach the person and hasn’t been able to, the court might authorize the plaintiff to complete the service of process by publishing a notice in the paper. The paper has to be circulated in an area where the person lives, though. 

Some states will also allow for substitute service, meaning that a process server can go with this option when other routes haven’t been successful. This just means they go to the legal address of the person and leave documents with a roommate or family member who’s of legal age and of sound mind. 

If someone entirely avoids being served and they don’t file an answer with the court by a deadline, depending on the situation, a motion might be filed that asks the court to enter a default judgment against the person. Then, further legal actions can be taken. 

Article by Born Realist