Types of Legal Documents Handled by Process Servers

April 15, 2024

Process servers help maintain fairness and equity in the legal system by delivering legal documents to the intended recipients. The legal documents that process servers handle include summonses, complaints, subpoenas, writs, protective orders, divorce papers, and child custody orders. By serving these legal papers correctly, process servers ensure that people receive proper notice when a lawsuit is filed against them or they’re required to respond to a court order.

On-Call Legal is your go-to expert for all services of process in California and across the United States. Our experienced nationwide process servers are always available to help you deliver your legal documents to anywhere in the country within 24 hours, without delay. Schedule a free consultation with us to discuss your process service and guide you throughout the process.

This blog explains the various types of court documents that a process server can serve and how to overcome the common challenges you are likely to face in preparing and serving court papers as an attorney.

What is Service of Process in California?

What is Service of Process in California?

Process serving, also known as service of process, is the process of delivering legal documents to an individual or entity involved in a legal proceeding. Such legal papers may include subpoenas, summons, legal complaints, writs, and other court notices. Primarily, process serving is to ensure fairness in legal proceedings by informing people when someone takes legal action against them or when they’re required to appear in court or produce required documents. The law usually requires the serving party to serve the legal papers early to give the recipient enough time to respond accordingly.

The Legal Framework Governing Process Serving in California

The Legal Framework Governing Process Serving in California

The California Code of Civil Procedure (CCP) stipulates how a subpoena is legally served in California. The law specifies the requirements for proper service including who can serve papers, the approved methods of service, and the timeline for proper service.

Regarding who can serve legal papers, anyone who is up to 18 years old can serve papers as long as they’re not a party to the case. It can be a family member, colleague, or friend, provided they fulfill the age and party criteria. However, for some cases, the court may order that the court documents be served by specified entities such as a marshal, sheriff, or a registered process server. To avoid the consequences of improper service, it’s best to hire a professional process server with a track record of successful process service in your jurisdiction.

After serving a legal document, you’re required to file a proof of service form with the court as evidence that you’ve duly notified the receiving party of the legal action or their supposed obligations. The proof of service document outlines how and when you served the legal document. Additionally, the CCP requires that you deliver legal documents within a specified timeframe before the court date. For example, the timeline for serving summons is at least 15 days before the court date. If the recipient does not live in the same county where the case is filed, you should serve the summons not less than 30 days before the court date.

Concerning the legally approved methods of service of process in California, the most common method of service is personal service, which involves directly handing the document over to the intended recipient. You can also serve legal papers by mail, substituted service, first-class mail, and in certain cases, electronic service via email or fax. Note that serving legal documents wrongly can make the document invalid.

What Kind of Papers Does a Process Server Serve?

What Kind of Papers Does a Process Server Serve?

A process server serves a wide range of legal documents to notify individuals or entities of ongoing legal actions, obligations, or rights related to court proceedings. These legal papers process servers deliver include:

1. Summons and Complaints

A summon is a legal document that notifies a person or an entity of a lawsuit against them. It contains information about the lawsuit such as the parties involved, the court where they filed the case, and the specified time when the summoned party should respond or appear in court. A summon can be judicial (issued by a court) or administrative (issued by an administrative body of the court).

On the other hand, a complaint is a legal document that states the reason for a lawsuit. It is often served alongside a summon. While a summon notifies the defendant of a lawsuit against them, a complaint states why the suing party filed the lawsuit, what the defendant allegedly did or did not do, and what the other party seeks as a remedy.

A summons and complaint combine as the legal papers served to initiate a lawsuit. By notifying or inviting the recipient with a summon, and stating the plaintiff’s case and expected response/outcome with a summon, the court ensures that the defendant gets sufficient opportunity to respond to their obligations or defend themselves against allegations.

2. Subpoena

A subpoena is a court document that compels an individual to appear in court to be a witness in a legal proceeding or produce documents or records as evidence in a case. Subpoenas help parties in a lawsuit to discover and access crucial evidence to support their claim. This promotes fairness and equity in court by giving all parties access to necessary documents and witness testimonies to defend themselves properly.

There are two types of subpoenas: Subpoena ad testificandum and Subpoena duces tecum. Subpoena ad testificandum is used to compel people to testify in a court or deposition hearing. On the other hand, a subpoena duces tecum mandates the recipient to produce certain specified documents or records relevant to a court case.

You can serve a subpoena in person or through alternative methods such as mail, certified mail, substituted service, electronic service, etc. Failure to comply with a subpoena may be considered contempt of court and attracts legal consequences such as fines or even imprisonment. However, you may object to a subpoena by filing a motion to dismiss if you can prove that the subpoena was not served properly. Hence, as an attorney, it’s best to engage the services of professional process servers to ensure that your subpoena is served the right way.

3. Writs

A writ is a court order that compels the receiving party to carry out a specified course of action. Writs require the recipient to take a particular action or prohibit them from taking a certain action. Writs are useful legal tools used by the court or other legal authorities to enforce compliance, protect legal rights, or execute a judgment. Common examples of writs include writ of execution, writ of attachment, and writ of garnishment.

A writ of attachment is usually served at the initial stages of a lawsuit to seize or secure a particular asset or property before the final judgment. It is often used in cases where the defendant has a likelihood of hiding or destroying the property before the case is resolved.

A writ of garnishment permits a third party, such as a bank or employer, to take custody of a person’s asset or property, usually to satisfy a debt. On the other hand, a writ of execution permits the sale of the debtor’s asset or property to fulfill a court judgment. It’s often served when a party intentionally fails to fulfill the court judgment.

4. Protective Orders and Restraining Orders

Protective and restraining orders are court documents that protect individuals from potential harm or harassment. Protective orders are usually issued in cases of offenses such as sexual assault, stalking, domestic violence, and other forms of harassment. The court order prohibits the alleged abuser from getting close, making contact, or communicating with the victim. This may include restricting the abuser from going to the victim’s home, school, or workplace.

Restraining orders cover a wider range of legal matters. Beyond domestic abuse, restraining orders apply to cases involving colleagues, neighbors, or other external relationships. The overall idea is to restrain people with inappropriate, harmful, or dangerous behaviors from interacting with potential victims.

To obtain a protective or restraining order, the victim files a petition with the court. The petition contains details about the threat or harm in question. Generally, courts respond to this kind of petition with urgency to help prevent the potential danger as quickly as possible. In some cases, the court may issue a temporary order to address the issue immediately. While the temporary order holds, the court may then schedule a full court hearing to give both parties the chance to present their case before the court decides if there’s a need to make the order permanent.

5. Divorce Decrees and Child Custody Orders

A divorce decree is the final court order that officially ends a marriage. Apart from stating that a marriage is dissolved, a divorce decree also specifies the terms of the divorce. It provides details regarding various aspects such as allocation of debts, division of assets, spouse support, child support, etc. Both parties involved in the divorce case are required by law to adhere to the terms of the divorce papers.

A child custody order determines who takes guardianship of a child after the parents separate or divorce. It specifies who the child stays with, how the child’s education and general welfare will be decided, and the visitation rights of the other parent. A child custody order is part of family law and binds both parties.

The Process of Serving Documents

The Process of Serving Documents

To maintain the validity of a legal document, you must serve it correctly. You have to ensure that a professional process server delivers the document to the right person, through the right method, at the right time, and with the right content. This is important because the recipient may object to the service if it’s not done properly, and that may nullify the original purpose of serving the papers.

Different legal papers may require different legal procedures for their service. However, here’s the general procedure followed by most process servers.

  1. The process server gets the documents from the serving party which may be an individual, an attorney, a law firm, or a court.
  2. The process server reviews the papers to ascertain the intended recipient and the type of service required.
  3. The server then locates the recipient based on the address provided. They may explore different methods such as public record searches, social media, and even a private investigator.
  4. The process server delivers the document to the intended recipient. In the case of personal service, the server may serve the papers to someone else if the person named in the document is not around. This is known as substituted service. However, such a person must be of age and within the intended recipient’s residence or place of work.
  5. After serving the documents, the server then files a proof of service form, also known as an affidavit of service form, with the court. The form states how, where, and when the process server served the documents. For service by mail, they may provide a return receipt as proof of service in due process, as long as they adhere to the specific rules guiding that method of service.

Common Challenges Faced by Professional Process Servers and How They Overcome Them

Common Challenges Faced by Professional Process Servers and How They Overcome Them

There are various challenges that attorneys face when preparing and serving summons, complaints, and other types of legal documents. You need to understand and solve these challenges to avoid improper service and its consequences. Some of the most prevalent challenges include:

  • Intentional attempts by the recipient to evade service
  • Aggressive or violent behaviors by the intended recipient
  • Incorrect or outdated crucial information such as the recipient’s address.
  • Privacy, security, and confidentiality policies.
  • Variations in the legal service procedure under different jurisdictions.

There are also various strategies attorneys can implement to address these challenges. For the challenge of evasion, you can use less direct alternative but approved methods of service such as substituted service or by publication. When facing aggressive or violent recipients, take safety measures such as maintaining a safe distance or involving a law enforcement agency for security.

To handle incorrect information, you can explore up-to-date sources of information about the recipient’s current location, such as social media, online databases, and public records. Keep in mind that some documents or records are protected by confidentiality or privacy rules, both to access and extract them. When dealing with sensitive documents such as medical records, ensure you adhere to the ethical standards stipulated by law to maintain confidentiality in the legal process.

How Does Jurisdiction Affect Process Service?

How Does Jurisdiction Affect Process Service?

The rules and procedural requirements for process serving may vary significantly across different jurisdictions. For instance, some jurisdictions may accept more flexible methods of service such as email, while others may specify strict timeframes within which a court paper must be served.

At the federal level, the guidelines for serving legal documents are provided by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The idea is to have some level of standardization to the process across federal jurisdictions. However, different states specify their own rules which may differ from the federal rules in various aspects. For example, while California does not generally mandate process servers to be licensed, process servers in Texas must be licensed and appointed by the court.

If you’re serving a recipient who is not based in the United States, then you must adhere to the Hague Service Convention. The Hague Service Convention is an international treaty established in 1965 to govern the service of legal papers across international borders. The goal of the treaty is to make sure that foreign defendants are notified and served efficiently and in a timely manner.

Beyond jurisdictional differences, there are also special cases and exceptions in process service. For instance, serving a legal entity such as a corporation requires that the server delivers the document to a registered officer or an agent of the corporation. Keep in mind that the process must be as the state law specifies. Hence, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the applicable service laws in your jurisdiction before you take any significant step.

All-Inclusive Support Services For Legal Professionals

Court documents must be handled and served correctly to be effective. That’s why it’s recommended to hire a process server who understands the legal requirements for proper service of process in your jurisdiction. If you’re an attorney or legal professional looking to serve your legal papers with speed and precision, On-Call Legal has got you covered. With our all-inclusive support services for legal professionals, we can help you obtain, prepare, serve, and document your court papers with ease. Book a free consultation today to get started.

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


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