Service of Process

When an individual or entity, initiates a lawsuit against another party, they are legally required to provide the other party with notice of the impending lawsuit, as well as copies of any documents that have been filed with the court. This is known as “service of process.” Documents are often served to an opposing party through a professional server known as a “process server.” To explore this concept, consider the following service of process definition.

Definition of Service of Process


  1. The procedure of providing another party with notice that a legal action has been initiated against them.
  2. The act of delivering legal documents, such as summonses, complaints, subpoenas, or warrants, to a person involved in the legal action.


1600s   English

What is Service of Process

Service of process is the act of providing parties in a lawsuit copies of any documents filed in court that pertain to the case. This may include the initial summons and complaint, or other documents, such as motions or subpoenas. Service of process is most commonly used in civil lawsuits. Until the other party has been properly served with the documents, the case cannot proceed. This is done to ensure all parties have an opportunity to respond to, and prepare for, the proceedings. Each jurisdiction has specific rules regarding service of process.

Methods of Service of Process

Each jurisdiction has specific laws governing service of process, addressing the issues of method of service, and time limits in which documents must be served. There are a number of methods of service of process, the most common of which are personal service and mail service. Once documents have been served, the server must complete and sign a proof of service affidavit, attesting to the service, which is filed with the court.

Personal Service

Personal service is mandatory when a case is initiated. This requires that the court documents be personally delivered to the opposing party. The server can do this anywhere the defendant might be found, including his home, office, or any other place. The server must be sure of the identity of the person they are serving, then hand him the documents and inform him that they are court documents. It does not matter if the person refuses to accept the documents, or destroys them immediately, as service is considered to be complete. Personal service may be done by a licensed process server, a sheriff, a constable, or any individual over the age of 18 with no connection to the case.

Service by Mail

Once a legal action has begun, and all parties have been properly notified, most other documents may be served by mail. Service by mail must be made by an individual over the age of 18, who is not related to the case. The individual seals the documents in an envelope addressed to the opposing party at the address on record with the court, then ensures there is sufficient postage to mail the envelope. The individual mail serving documents must complete a proof of service form, listing the documents mailed, the date of mailing, and address to which the envelope was addressed. This proof of service form must be filed with the court.

Substituted Service

Substituted service refers to the leaving of court documents with a person other than the party named in the court action. This is only acceptable if the server has made several attempts to locate and personally serve the party, on different days, and at different times, all of which have failed. Such failed attempts must be documented for the court, including the dates, times, and locations.

The server may then leave the documents with an individual over the age of 18 at the party’s residence, or with a person of authority at the party’s workplace. The server must advise the person with whom the documents are left that they are court documents. The server must then place copies of the same documents into the mail, addressed to the location at which substitute service was made. The server must complete the proof of service form, detailing the failed attempts, as well as the substituted service.

Agent for Service of Process

A Limited Liability Corporation (“LLC”) must designate an individual to receive legal documents in court actions against them. Such an individual is referred to as an “agent for service of process,” and can be any individual over the age of 18, including an owner or officer of the company. The agent for service of process, or “agent of service,” is responsible for ensuring the LLC’s owners receive legal notices immediately. The agent of service must be named in the company’s articles of incorporation, or an LLC’s articles of organization. Many companies designate their attorney as the agent of service.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Civil LawsuitA lawsuit brought about in court when one person claims to have suffered a loss due to the actions of another person.
  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
  • Summons – An order or citation to appear in court, or to appear before a judge or magistrate.