Serving Court Documents

Serving papers on another person is an official handing over of documents. Papers must be "served" on any other person who is involved in the law suit or who the law requires get the papers.

This lets the person(s) in the case know what you are telling the court and what you are asking the court to do.

If the papers are not served in the correct way at the correct time, the court cannot go forward with the case.

A person is served when they officially receive the papers.

Papers which start an action (Summons, Petition, Request for Order, etc.) must be filed first and then served on the other person(s).

After the papers are served, a Proof of Service form must be filled out and signed by the person who served the papers. The Proof of Service form must be filed with the court.

How are Papers Served?

Do not serve the papers yourself!

Any person who is at least 18 years old and not involved in the case may serve papers. The person who serves the papers will have to fill out a Proof of Service form showing what they gave (served) to the other parties.

Choose someone to serve the papers who is able to fill out the form.

There are companies that serve papers for you as part of their business. These companies charge money for serving the papers.

The Sheriff's Office will serve papers for you. The Sheriff's Office charges money unless the court waived the fee.

In a Domestic Violence case the Sheriff will serve the papers to start the case and also the Order, at no cost.

The Sheriff's office will file the Proof of Service for you and give you a copy of the form.

You may have a friend or relative serve the papers if that person is at least 18 years old and is willing to help you, is able to complete the form to prove service and could appear in court to tell what they served. Remember, you must later file the Proof of Service.

Any Peace Officer who is present at the scene of alleged domestic violence may serve any already existing Domestic Violence Restraining Order.

A Peace Officer may issue an order restraining domestic violence, called an Emergency Protective Order, to prevent domestic violence when it is not possible for the alleged victim to get to court immediately. The peace officer serves the papers on the other party at that time.

Papers may be served in one of the following ways, depending on the circumstances or type of papers to be served:

Personal Service requires the papers to be hand delivered to the person.

  • The papers may be hand delivered to the attorney for that person, or the attorney's secretary, during business hours, if that attorney has already appeared" in the case and the attorney agrees to accept service in this manner.
  • Usually an attorney has "appeared" if he/she has gone into court on the case or filed papers in the case.
  • Personal Service is the required way to serve certain papers.
  • Personal service is required for all papers which start a case.
  • A person is served as soon as the person is handed the papers.

Substituted Service may be used if personal service has not been successful after several attempts to serve the person.

  • For Substituted Service copies of the papers are left at the place of residence (home), or normal place of business of the person to be served.
  • The papers must be left with a person who is at least 18 years old. The person given the papers must live in the same home or be the person in charge at the place of business.
  • The person given the papers must be told what the papers are about and who they are for.
  • Do not leave the papers yourself.
  • After leaving the papers, the person serving the papers must also mail a copy of them to the party to be served, at the same address where the papers were left.
  • Do not mail the papers yourself.
  • The copies must be sent by first-class mail, with enough postage (stamps) to get the envelope delivered.
  • The person who made the efforts to serve the party in person must write a Declaration of Due Diligence (under oath) to file with the Court.
  • The Declaration of Due Diligence must tell, in detail, what efforts he/she made to serve the party in person.
  • This Declaration must be filed along with the Proof of Service also signed by the person who served the papers.

Service by Mail is used in some cases. Papers may be served by mailing them to the person to be served. There are special requirements for this kind of service.

  • The person serving the papers puts the documents to be served into an envelope, addressed to the party to be served and sends them by first-class mail.
  • Do not mail the papers yourself.
  • Service by mail is permitted for all papers if the party to be served lives outside California.
  • In these circumstances the mailing must be by Registered or Certified Mail and must have the Return Receipt Requested form attached and filled out.
  • The signed Return Receipt Requested form must be filed with the court along with the form which states how the papers were served (Proof of Service).
  • If the party to be served is not in California, the party is served by mail ten days after the papers are mailed.
  • If the party to be served is not in the United States , the party is served by mail 20 days after the papers are mailed.
  • Note: In practice it is better to have the person personally served even outside California. If the party to be served by mail does not sign the Return Receipt Requested form, you do not have good service.

Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt is another form of service by mail acceptable for original papers.

  • Two copies of a form called Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt must be included with all of the papers sent to the other party.
  • The person sending the papers must also include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
  • The "Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt." must name the person who is being served:
    TO: ………………………………..

    It must be dated and signed by the sender:

    Dated: ………………………
    (Signature of Sender)

  • Do not send the Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt yourself.
  • If the form is returned to the sender the party is served on the date the "Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt" form was signed.
  • If the party to be served does not return the requested "Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt form, or does not sign the form, the service is not complete and some other way of serving that party will be necessary.
  • Service by mail is also permitted for most papers to be served on a party if that party has already filed papers in the action.
  • The address for service by mail is the address that party put at the top of the papers he/she filed.
  • If an attorney for a party has already "appeared" in a case, the papers should be sent to that attorney.
  • If you are not certain that the attorney is involved in the case it would be best to serve both the other person and their attorney.

Service by Publication is a process of putting an official notice in a newspaper. This is a very unusual method of serving papers and is only permitted after the court gives an order permitting service in this way.

  • Before using this form of service, the person who wants the papers served must have tried, in all other reasonable ways, to locate the person and give them the papers.
  • To get the Order For Publication the person wishing to use this method must file an Application For Order For Publication of Summons along with a statement of Declaration of Due Diligence.
  • A Declaration of Due Diligence is a statement of the efforts that have already been made to get the other party served.

    The Court will usually order service by publication if you can show that the party cannot be found despite very strong efforts to find them.

    The newspaper named will be one the Judge thinks is the one most likely to give actual notice to the party to be served.

    After the papers have been published in that newspaper for the number of days or weeks ordered by the Judge, the party is considered to be legally served.

    The court will require a sworn statement from the newspaper that the publication has been made according to the Judge's order.

    The sworn statement will be on the form for Proof of Service and should be provided by the newspaper.

Appearance, Stipulation and Waiver is a way a party can tell the court they know about a law case even if they did not receive any other official notice (service). This form is usually used if the parties have reached a complete agreement. If this form is filed, there is no need to prove the service of a Summons and Petition nor with any other previously filed papers.  A first time filing fee will apply.

The Filing of a Response or Answer by the other party makes it unnecessary to prove that you have formally served the Summons and Petition or Complaint. By filing the Response or Answer the other party shows that he/she knows about the legal action and agrees to the Court hearing the case.

A General Appearance acts like the service of process because the other party, or his or her attorney, comes into court or files papers with the court in a way that shows consent to the court hearing the matters in the law case.

In this situation the other party waives his or her right to object to the way they were told about the case or the court that will hear the case. (Note: if the person makes a "Special Appearance" to object to the court hearing the case, the person is not waiving their right to proper service of papers.)