What Happens If You Don’t Answer the Door to a Process Server?

January 17, 2024

When served with legal papers by a process server, you have a legal obligation to acknowledge and respond to the court documents within the specified timeframe. But what if you choose not to respond to the process server?

If you don’t answer the door to a process server, they will usually try to serve you again at another time. However, not responding to a process server does not stop legal proceedings, and the court may proceed without your involvement, potentially resulting in a default judgment against you.

If you’re unsure about the legal implications of avoiding a process server or need assistance in understanding your rights and obligations, our team at On Call Legal is ready to help.

As the leading nationwide process server in California, our experts possess the experience they need to not only provide excellent process service but also guide you throughout the process. Contact us today to get started immediately.

In this article, you’ll learn what happens if you don’t answer the door to a process server, the alternative methods of service, and best practices if you get served. Let’s dive in.

What Happens If You Deliberately Avoid a Process Server?

What Happens If You Deliberately Avoid a Process Server?

Deliberately avoiding a process server may attract severe legal consequences. It can result in prolonged cases, default judgments, contempt of court charges, and missed opportunities for proper defense. Some of the long-term consequences of avoiding a process server include:

Missed Opportunities For Defense

Failure to receive and respond to legal documents may result in missed court appearances, leading to judgments made in your absence, which may eventually limit the ability to defend your case effectively.

Possible Legal Penalties or Additional Charges

Continued avoidance can result in legal penalties or additional charges, such as fines for contempt of court or covering the opposing party’s legal fees due to unnecessary delays caused by non-compliance.

Non-Compliance and its Effect on Court Judgments

Non-compliance can influence court judgments, which can potentially lead to unfavorable outcomes due to the absence of a proper defense or your inability to present crucial evidence or arguments.

No Obligation Until Documents are Physically Received

Some individuals believe that if they haven’t physically received the documents, they are not legally bound. However, legal obligations begin upon proper service, regardless of your acknowledgment.

What Happens If You’re Not Home?

Process servers typically follow specific protocols when no one answers the door. Usually, they’ll make multiple attempts at different times and days to reach you at home. Their efforts may include visiting during evenings or weekends to ensure a higher chance of serving the court documents via personal service. 

If you’re genuinely unavailable during these attempts due to work, travel, or other legitimate commitments, the process server might leave a notice or attempt alternative methods like mailing the documents, contacting you via phone, etc.

What Happens If You're Not Home?

If process servers suspect you’re trying to intentionally avoid them, they might employ additional methods, such as reaching out to neighbors or associates, or visiting a family member’s home to confirm your availability. If the server consistently fails to reach you despite multiple attempts, they may resort to alternative legal methods or petition the court for permission to use alternative means of service. 

Most process servers typically make multiple attempts to serve legal documents, often ranging from three to five attempts. The exact number of attempts can vary based on local regulations, the urgency of the legal matter, and the diligence of the process serving agency.

Alternative Methods of Process Service

Alternative Methods of Process Service

Apart from personal service, there are other approved ways to serve court papers. The use of these methods often requires court approval and varies by jurisdiction. They include:

Substituted Service: Serving legal documents to another person of suitable age and discretion at the recipient’s home or workplace.

Service by Mail: This method means sending the documents via postal service to the recipient’s last known address. It might require sending the documents by registered or certified mail to ensure proof of delivery.

In some cases, the documents can be posted at the property and also mailed. If the recipient cannot be located, the court may allow publication of the notice in a newspaper, or in certain jurisdictions and under specific conditions, documents can be served electronically, such as via email.

Common Misconceptions About Avoiding Process Servers

Ignorance Equals Safety

Many people believe that avoiding or refusing to accept legal documents will make their cases disappear or provide protection from legal action. In reality, avoiding service can worsen legal issues and result in more severe consequences.

Hiding Buys Time

Some assume that evading a process server buys time to prepare a defense or escape legal obligations. However, courts have measures to ensure due process, and avoiding service doesn’t delay legal proceedings indefinitely.

Physical Evasion Protects

Physically avoiding or moving away from the server will prevent service of process. Process servers are resourceful and can find alternative means or take legal steps to serve papers.

Case Study to Illustrate Consequences of Avoiding a Process Server

Case Study to Illustrate Consequences of Avoiding a Process Server

Doe found himself entangled in a contract dispute with a former business partner. Fully aware of the impending legal documents, Doe opted for a game of evasion whenever the process server came to deliver legal documents. He thought that dodging the server would halt the legal proceedings, sparing him from potential repercussions. 

However, the court proceeded with the case in his absence, resulting in a default judgment favoring the opposing party. This judgment imposed a substantial financial penalty against Doe, and that affected his finances and credit rating. His evasion tactics not only extended the legal matter, escalating legal fees for both sides, but also took a toll on Doe’s emotional well-being.

Moreover, his evasive maneuvers significantly limited his legal options, leaving him with little opportunities to contest the judgment or negotiate a settlement. Doe’s experience illustrates the common repercussions faced by those choosing to avoid a process server: default judgments, financial stress, emotional distress, and limited legal recourse.

7 Tips on How to Respond to Process Servers

  1. Stay Calm and Polite: Reacting negatively can escalate the situation unnecessarily. A calm approach ensures clearer thinking and better handling of the situation. Remember, the process server is performing their job.
  2. Verify their Identity: Ensure the person is an official process server or a genuine law enforcement officer appointed by the court. They should have identification or documentation to prove their role. This is a standard security measure to prevent scams or misinformation.
  3. Accept the Documents: Accepting the court document does not automatically mean you’re guilty or agree to the content. It’s an acknowledgment that you received the papers. Refusal can lead to alternative service methods.
  4. Read the Documents Carefully: Understanding the contents is crucial for an appropriate response. Pay attention to the nature of the legal action and instructions provided.
  5. Note the Deadline: Legal documents typically have response deadlines. Missing a response deadline can have serious legal consequences and can lead to legal decisions made without your input or defense, possibly to your disadvantage.
  6. Seek Legal Advice: If the document’s content is complex or unclear, you should seek legal counsel. A lawyer can provide clarity on the necessary steps.
  7. Don’t Ignore the Documents: Ignoring legal papers can lead to adverse outcomes like a default judgment, which could be more challenging to contest later.

Conclusion

Not answering the door when a process server knocks may lead to some legal repercussions, including missed chances to defend the case, potentially leading to unfavorable judgments.

You should seek professional advice or guidance to understand the documents and how to respond appropriately. Contact our experienced process servers at On Call Legal for expert guidance on how best to respond to process service to stay compliant.

On-demand legal services with arranging services from eFiling to organizing and preparing your subpoena for records and/or personal appearance and much more.

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Proud member of the California Association of Legal Support Professionals (CALSPro), National Association of Professional Process Servers (NAPPS) and Serve-Now Network of Process Servers

National Association of Professional Process Servers   California Association of Legal Support Pros   Local Process Servers


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