The Ins and Outs of Serving Documents

You’ve been served! We’ve all heard that phrase, possibly from a tv show, but what does it mean and entail. To serve means to deliver a summons or other notice to someone, and it’s a crucial part of the legal process. It is a way to make sure that the other party is informed about the proceeding. Court cases and hearings can’t move forward unless all parties involved are served notices and all necessary paperwork.

If you have a scheduled hearing, but you don’t serve your ex the documents before the hearing date, your case can’t move forward. All parties involved in the case must be notified of the date and time of the hearing and served all necessary documents, so they have a chance to defend themselves on that date. This is referred to as due process and is a fundamental part of the justice system in the United States. If he is served and chooses not to show up, that’s on him, but to get your judgment, he has to be served.

Who Can Serve

The first thing to note is that you can’t serve the documents yourself. No one involved in the case can serve documents. The court won’t do it for you, but anyone else over the age of 18 can legally serve documents. You can ask someone to do it for you, but you also have a couple of options to have your ex professionally served. 

Call the Sheriff

There are a couple of ways to have your ex professionally served. You can have a sheriff serve him. There will be a fee for this service, but having law enforcement present him with a notice to appear in court could be the wake-up call he needs. 

Process Server

There are also professional process servers available. Their rates will vary, especially depending on how long it takes to serve.

Phone a Friend

Your other option is the potentially free option, getting someone to serve the documents for you. A friend, coworker, cousin, anyone he may not immediately recognize.

How to Serve

Now that you know who can serve, there are a few ways you can get the documents to your ex.

Getting Creative

If your ex is avoiding paying his support or arrears, chances are he will try to avoid receiving a summons to court or any other official documents. If he sees someone walking up to his door with an envelope, he may not answer the door. 

If that’s the case, you may need to find creative ways to lower his guard. This could be having a friend dressed as a delivery person knocking on his door around his birthday. You could have someone reach out to them about selling them a rare baseball card and then serve them when they meet in person. Corner them at their favorite bar after they’ve had a couple of drinks, and they aren’t on guard. It only matters that he gets served; the court doesn’t care how.

Certified Mail

You can also serve documents by certified mail through the court. It’s an easy method that comes with a small fee to the court, but usually, the documents aren’t considered served until the respondent signs and returns the form. So it may be easy, but if you are even slightly concerned that he would ignore it, it may be best to choose another path.

An increasingly popular alternative is serving through email. If you have the email address of the person you are trying to serve, it is cheaper than paying for certified mail and quicker than having it sent through the post office, but similar to service by mail, you will need verification from the respondent that they received service.

Serving By Substitution

If your ex has a knack for dodging servers, you may want to serve via a substitute. If you’ve done everything you can, and you receive court approval, you can serve the documents to any adult who lives with the respondent. In this case, you may also need to send a second copy of all the documents by first-class mail to the respondent’s address.


Service by publication should be a last resort. If you’ve tried everything you can to serve your ex and you are running out of time before the hearing, then you can serve your ex by publication in a newspaper. You will need permission from the court to do this, but it satisfies the requirement to serve your ex if everything else has failed.

Of course, people don’t read newspapers like they used to. The place where many people go every day now is social media. It’s a new trend so there aren’t many rules around it yet, but it is possible to serve your ex on a social media platform. If you know what platform he is active on, he is active on a daily basis, and you know his profile, you can serve him through social media. Slowly but surely, the courts are catching up to the 21st century.

Proof of Service

To show the respondent was properly served, proof of service will likely be required. A document called a Proof of Service should be filed with the court with the signature of the person who physically served the document, showing how the respondent was served, where they were served, and the day and time they were served.

Serving an ex can feel like yet another steep slope that’s part of the mountain you need to scale to collect back child support. The court gives you the responsibility to make sure the documents are served, but you have options to get him served. Knowing your options allows you to find the best method to get the documents in his hands and move your case forward.

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