Why Would I Be Getting Served Civil Papers?

December 15, 2023

Imagine the court passing a default judgment against you without properly notifying you of a lawsuit filed against you. You’d probably raise an alarm and fault the judicial system for injustice because the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment protects you from deprivation of life, liberty, and property, by the federal and state government, without the due process of law. This means that before the government denies you your rights, liberty, and property, they must give you proper notice and a fair hearing before the court.

So, you get served with civil papers when someone takes legal action against you in court.

It’s recommended to seek professional counsel when you get served to help you respond correctly. And here at On-Call Legal, we have qualified process servers nationwide to help you serve your civil papers with precision and speed.

In this article, you’ll learn the most common reasons why you might receive court papers and what to do when you’re served.

What are Civil Papers?

What are Civil Papers?

Civil papers, also known as court papers or court documents, are official documents used to initiate legal proceedings, convey legal information, or enforce court orders. They’re usually filed with a court and served to the individual or entity by a process server, notifying them of their legal obligations and responsibilities.

The process of being served with civil papers is known as service of process. It’s usually done by a trained neutral party known as a process server. Proper service of process is crucial as it notifies the individual of an action taken against them, allowing them to respond.

Serving civil papers requires compliance with established legal procedures on the part of the process server. Otherwise, the defendant may have a ground to prove improper service, which may nullify the process service if successful. On the other hand, the person served is obligated to respond to the court order or face certain consequences depending on the case.

Civil papers come in different types, each serving its specific purpose. Let’s explore some of them below:

1. Summons

A summon notifies an individual of a lawsuit initiated against them and orders them to appear before the court to defend themselves. It generally includes details such as:

  • The name of the plaintiff
  • Name of the defendant
  • The court where the lawsuit was filed
  • The case number
  • The nature of the lawsuit, and
  • The deadline for responding.

2. Complaints

This document outlines the plaintiff’s allegation against the defendant. Here, the plaintiff includes the statement of facts, the damage caused by the defendant, and the relief considered commensurate.

3. Court Orders

This is a written command or mandate that a judge or a judicial officer issues to direct an individual or entity to take a specific action or decision.

4. Subpoenas

A subpoena is a legal document that commands an individual to appear before a court to give testimony or produce evidence in a case proceeding. A subpoena is usually issued to third parties who may possess information or evidence relevant to a case.

Why Would I be Getting Served Civil Papers?

Why Would I be Getting Served Civil Papers?


An individual may file a lawsuit against you if they believe you violated their legal rights or they suffered harm or injury as a result of your action. A lawsuit is a civil way of resolving disputes, enforcing your rights, and seeking redress for alleged wrongs. The party filing the complaints is known as the plaintiff while the party against whom the complaint is made is called the defendant. 

After initiating the lawsuit, the defendant must be served a summons within a specified time. Otherwise, the court may quash the complaints. Common types of lawsuits include:

  • Personal Injury Lawsuits: This arises when a party is injured due to another party’s negligence or intentional misconduct. Examples include accidents, product malfunction, and medical malpractice.
  • Contract Disputes Lawsuits: Contracts usually outline the responsibilities and rights of parties. When an individual fails to observe their part of the responsibilities, or disrespects the rights of another party involved in the contract, legal action may be taken against the defaulting party.
  • Business Disputes: This includes defamations, transactional disputes, copyright infringement, intellectual property theft, and trademark violations.
  • Employment-Related Lawsuits: This type of lawsuit may arise from unfair labor practices, wrongful termination, discrimination in the workplace, breach of employment agreement, and wage-related disputes.

Debt Collection

A creditor may initiate legal action against a debtor when they fail to make timely payment. Once the court rules in favor of the creditor, they may collect their debts through wage garnishment, property lien, bank account levies, or any other means authorized by the court. In debt collection cases, the court may serve you with legal documents such as summons or and wage garnishment orders.

Family Law Cases

Family law cases involve legal matters related to family relationships. This includes divorce, child support, spousal support, and other domestic issues. In divorce cases, a spouse may be served with court papers outlining the legal grounds for the divorce and requesting the division of assets and child custody.

Also, if divorced parents have a disagreement over child or spousal support, they may proceed to court to resolve the dispute. Hence, legal papers may be served to notify the party of the legal action and to enforce court orders.

Property Dispute

This involves disagreement over the ownership, boundary, and use of properties. When multiple individuals claim ownership over a property, they may bring the case before the court to determine the rightful owner. The process may result in being served court papers.

What are The Legal Implications of Being Served Court Papers?

What are The Legal Implications of Being Served Court Papers?

Proper service of process is a fundamental aspect of the due process clause, ensuring a sued party receives proper notification of a legal action against them. The party has the responsibility to respond according to the demands of the court documents. Depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the legal action, ignoring legal papers may have serious consequences, which include:

Contempt of Court

Contempt of court is any action or decision that dishonors the authority of the court or obstructs the court proceedings. Ignoring civil papers amounts to contempt of court, and this attracts consequences such as sanctions, fines, and imprisonment.

Default Judgment

When an individual fails to respond timely to a summon from personal service, the court may be compelled to rule a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff. This means that the other party automatically loses the case and may have to pay every relief or damages requested by the plaintiff.

Additional Financial Costs

From payment of fines and sanctions to the forced payment of the original damages claimed by the plaintiff, ignoring legal papers will only end up hurting your finances.

Benefits of Responding to Served Court Documents

Benefits of Responding to Served Court Documents
  • Responding timely and appropriately to civil papers helps protect your legal rights as you have the opportunity to defend yourself, provide relevant evidence that supports your claims, and even challenge the validity of the court papers if necessary. This means you can actively participate in the legal process and possibly influence the outcome of the proceedings.
  • Also, a timely and appropriate response to civil papers demonstrates respect for the judicial authority, and the willingness to cooperate with the court in ensuring justice. This portrays you as a responsible citizen and increases your credibility before the judge, making them more likely to believe your testimony.

When served with civil papers, you should understand your legal rights, including the rights to legal advice and representation, fair hearing, and contesting the validity of the service if you believe it was improper. So, don’t get scared; just get prepared.

What Should You Do After Being Served Court Documents?

After receiving civil papers there are appropriate steps you must take to manage the situation and stay compliant. They include:

1. Maintain Calmness

Most people tend to get anxious when they’re served with court papers. This could lead them to take action that might worsen their case. Hence, it’s crucial to remain calm and respond appropriately to the process server if it’s personal service.

2. Read the Document Carefully

You should carefully read the document to understand the nature of the legal action or mandate given therein. Identify the name of the court and the case number. Also, take note of your responsibilities such as the deadline for responding, return receipt requested in the case of certified mail, required documents, etc.

3. Seek Legal Advice

Consult with an attorney who specializes in civil law or any area of law relevant to your case. The attorney will help you review the case, assess the claims, and provide you with expert guidance on the steps to take. If necessary, they will also represent you during negotiation and court proceedings.

4. Prepare Your Response or Defense Strategy

Where your response or participation in the legal proceeding is required, it’s crucial to take accurate steps to prepare your response or defense strategy.

First, draft your response and ensure it conforms with the court requirements. Gather relevant evidence such as witness testimony, and audio or visual records to support your position or counterclaims.

The importance of legal assistance can’t be overemphasized, particularly when you’re faced with legal challenges. However, due to financial constraints and limited information and resources, finding a qualified attorney may prove hard. Here are the tips that can help you out:

  • Do Your Research: Use Legal Directories to conduct thorough research on your potential attorney. Some legal directories have a list of attorneys and law firms categorized by location, practice area, and other relevant criteria, simplifying the process of finding the right lawyer for you. Also, they provide client reviews, ratings, and the lawyer’s credentials to help you make informed judgments.
  • Ask for Recommendations: Ask your friends, family members, or professional networks for recommendations. They may point you to an experienced attorney who has represented them effectively in the past.
  • Consider Legal Aids: Legal aids and pro bono lawyers provide legal assistance for low-income individuals who cannot afford the money to hire a private attorney. Some legal aid organizations in California include Community Legal Aid SoCal, Legal Services of Northern California (LSNC Sacramento), and Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA).

Preventive Measures and Best Practices

Preventive Measures and Best Practices

Being served with court papers can have negative financial and mental health impacts. However, there are measures and practices you can apply to reduce the possibility of getting served. They include:

Stay Updated and Compliant with Relevant Regulations

If you’re starting a business, entering into a marital relationship, or signing a contract with someone, you must keep up to date with relevant laws in your jurisdiction. This will help you stay compliant and make informed decisions to avoid legal complications.

Record Transactions and Agreements

Keeping accurate records of transactional documents and agreements will help you solve disputes or even prevent them from happening in the first place. Some of these transactional documents include receipts, invoices, contracts, emails, and appointment letters. They will also serve as strong evidence to support your claim during possible lawsuits.

Communicate Effectively

Learn to communicate your intentions and expectations clearly and effectively to minimize confusion and disagreements that might escalate into lawsuits. Maintain a listening ear and be open with the parties involved and stay informed to ensure you address any disagreement on time.

Seek Legal Advice

Before making major decisions, it’s crucial to obtain proper guidance from a qualified lawyer. This will help you identify potential legal pitfalls and take necessary steps to avoid them.

Try Alternative Resolution Strategies

Apart from lawsuits, there are other alternative conflict resolution strategies you can explore to effectively resolve your misunderstandings. They include negotiation, arbitration, and mediation. These strategies are less emotionally tasking, and save you money.

Note that the above measures don’t in any way discourage you from complying with your legal obligations, which include your timely response to court papers. Legal compliance will help you mitigate legal and financial consequences, and also protect your reputation and credibility in society.


You should know it’s your due process right to be served civil papers, which helps you prepare your legal response or defense, allowing you to participate in the legal process.

Upon the receipt of a civil paper, it’s crucial to seek legal advice for proper navigation and informed decision-making. If you need a professional process server in California or guidance on how to respond to served court papers, reach out to us at On Call Legal to get started today.

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

Proud Member

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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