March 10, 2021
Summary: You've been served. Not words you want to hear. Or see taped to your front door. Find out what process servers can and can't do when serving your papers.
When you file for divorce, or you have not paid on a debt, you will be served with a summons. This summons is essentially letting you know that you need to show up in court on a particular day. Because your creditor or loan officer is not going to serve it to you themselves, they will typically hire a process server.
Every state has different laws when it comes to process servers, but overall, they must follow a few specific regulations. For one, a process server cannot break the law when trying to serve papers. This might include trespassing or breaking and entering. This also means that oftentimes process servers get creative and do things that almost cross the line, but not quite. Here's what you need to know.
To be a process server you must be over 18 years old, and not a party to the lawsuit. This means that while this person could be a professional process server, they might also be a county sheriff or even a friend.
What is interesting is that process servers are not required to complete a course or have a specific education. They are simply responsible for knowing and understanding the laws related to serving legal documents in the state. Process servers are also required to post a $2,000 bond or cash deposit.
In some states, a process server that serves more than ten legal documents a year must be registered. When they register they will do so with the clerk of court in the county in which they live, or they have their principal place of business. If a business intends to offer process services then it must also maintain a certificate of registration.
Some individuals are exempt from registering as a process server. This includes law enforcement officers, as well as attorneys and their employees. Additionally, anyone who is appointed by the court to serve its process is not required to register.
Other exempt individuals include licensed private investigators, as well as the investigators' employees, who do not need to register, along with professional photocopiers who respond to records production requests and subpoenas.
The main job of a process server is to deliver legal documents. This is either to an individual or party named in the action. The purpose of process service is to place the party on notice that the legal action has taken place. It may also be to notify that a relevant document has been filed in the case.
Some documents in a legal action must be served in a manner outlined by governing rules. This might include serving a document face to face with the receiver. When this type of service occurs, it will be required that the receiver is identified, and then handed the “served” document.
Whether a process server is doing their job at a place of work or a residence, breaking and entering is never allowed. Despite this, most process servers begin personal service by attempting to serve the person at their home. Most often they can avoid trespassing by staying outside a locked gate, and avoiding going into a locked building without permission.
While process servers may not legally enter a building, they may leave a summons taped outside of your door, as long as it does not display the contents. Most often though, a process server will come back if you are not home, or wait for you to leave to catch you while walking. If you are avoiding being served, the process server may wait until you are forced to leave or enter the location in which they are staying at.
Process servers can never force you to open a door. This also means that they cannot legally threaten or push you to open the door. This would be considered forced entry, and the document would not be legally served.
If a process server pretends to be a police officer, this is completely illegal. Under no circumstance can a process server pretend to be a police officer or other court official to force you to open the door. You can refuse to open the door, and if they force you to open the door by saying they are a law enforcement officer, they can be prosecuted.
While a process server cannot harass or stalk you, they can wait for you. This is typically called a stakeout, and if they wish to serve you with legal documents, they might wait outside of your home, business, for you to exit. Another common stakeout location is to stand outside of a known friend or family member's home.
Process servers often look to leave papers with someone who might answer the door to your home. Despite this being a good idea, they cannot do so with a minor. Although you may be avoiding the process server and avoiding service, this is unreliable. By leaving the papers with anyone who is under the age of 18 years, you are not considered served. The only time a process server can leave your papers with another adult is if you are evasive, and the other person is an adult household member.
If a process server is unsuccessful in serving you, then the attorney may file a motion with the court. This motion may ask the court to serve you in a different manner. This may end up with the court granting a motion to serve by public notice, which is essentially through the mail or in a different method. Typically if you are not served by a process server for debt, it will be done through the mail or by phone.
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