When Do You Need a Process Server?

When Do You Need a Process Server
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So your friend is suing her ex-business partner for fraud or that neighbor you’ve avoided for years slipped on your front steps last winter. Now you’ve received paperwork saying you’re being taken to court. What happens next?

In the American legal system, you can’t just inform someone they’re being sued by texting them or leaving a voicemail. There’s this whole official process called service of process that has to happen first. This is where process servers come in.

Process servers are professionals who formally notify people that legal action is being taken against them. They hand-deliver court documents like summonses, complaints, subpoenas, and motions to defendants to officially establish the court’s jurisdiction.

When Due Process Comes Knocking

The right to due process is guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. This means that before the government can deprive you of life, liberty, or property, you have to be given proper notice and a chance to be heard.

Due process protections form the backbone of the American justice system. And process servers are the ones making sure those Constitutional rights are upheld for both plaintiffs and defendants.

By personally serving court documents to the defendant, services such as Preferred Process Servers provide official notice that a case involving them exists. This starts the clock ticking for the defendant to respond and appear before the court to share their side of the story.

No pressure or anything, but this first step is essential for the entire legal proceeding to move forward. It’s no exaggeration to say process servers ensure the wheels of justice keep turning. Without process servers, many cases would never be heard.

Rules and Deadlines Galore

Now you may be wondering why anyone would hire a special process server instead of just asking a friend to deliver the goods. The answer comes down to expertise. There’s a lot of precise rules and strict deadlines around service of process that your buddy is likely to miss.

Each state sets its own service requirements including who can serve court documents, how many attempts must be made, appropriate times of day to catch defendants at home, etc. Federal cases brought under institutions like the FDCPA also have particular process serving regulations.

Then there’s specific document types requiring personal service by a process server, like those involving:

  • Eviction notices
  • Divorce proceedings
  • Lawsuits with potential jail time for the defendant

In most jurisdictions, the initial summons and complaint only has 30, 60 or 90 days to be properly served to the defendant. Miss that window and the plaintiff risks having to reboot the entire case. No bueno.

Catch Me If You Can

You already know some defendants are shady and try to avoid the long arm of the law being slapped on their shoulder. These folks go out of their way to dodge process servers through deception and wild goose chases.

To complete service, process servers rely on persistence, skip tracing tools, and good old-fashioned tracking skills to hunt defendants down at home, work or their secret vacation spot in the Maldives.

If all attempts to personally serve court documents ultimately fail, the server can turn to numerous substitute service methods like leaving them with a resident at the defendant’s home address instead.

But before alternate strategies are deployed, professional process servers give it their all to locate even the sneakiest defendants. Their purpose isn’t necessarily to catch the person, but to ensure their right to due process is upheld.

Why Not DIY Service of Process?

At this point you may be scratching your head wondering why you can’t just handle service of process yourself. Cut out the middleman and get those court papers directly into the hands of your soon-to-be ex-BFF being sued for wrecking your car, right?

While that may seem efficient, here’s why hiring a registered process server is the safest route:

They Know Procedural Rules Cold

With regularly changing state, federal, and local rules about service of process, it’s tough for the average person to keep it all straight. A misstep could completely invalidate the service and have your case thrown out. For example, debt collection must follow the laid out rules of the FDCPA.

Professional process servers stay on top of laws and deadlines that vary across courts and legal matters. They know precisely how to deliver documents in a way that will hold up to strict legal standards.

Access Specialized Tracking Resources

Even with an up-to-date home or work address in hand, some defendants try very hard not to get served. They may refuse to answer the door or temporarily move without a forwarding address.

Process servers utilize special skip tracing databases and investigation techniques the typical person doesn’t have access to. They can dig up current phone numbers, addresses history, relatives’ information, and other data points to eventually hunt the defendant down.

Remain Impartial in Tense Situations

Being served papers over a lawsuit tends to bring up strong emotions like anger or panic. A professional process server is trained to calmly handle these sensitive situations should they arise. They focus objectively on properly delivering documents, regardless of any outbursts or resistance.

Friends and family members get caught up in the drama of legal disputes with all sorts of biases and baggage. Process servers offer an impartial, unbiased third party better equipped to take the heat when tensions flare after service.

Speed Things Up

Hiring a registered process server ensures documents get into the right hands ASAP. Hiccups that add days, weeks or even months to the clock are avoided thanks to their expertise navigating relevant laws and using every tool available to promptly locate defendants.

Becoming a Certified Process Server

At this point working as a process server sounds like a pretty sweet gig, right? You set your own hours while helping uphold Constitutional rights and sticking it to deadbeats avoiding the law. Fair warning though – becoming a certified process server involves meeting some key requirements depending on the state.

Brush Up on Service of Process Laws

Given how frequently regulations change around process serving, mandatory continuing education is often required to maintain active status as a process server. Yearly or biannual training courses ensure servers learn the latest legal procedures.

Expect lessons on topics like rules of civil procedure or methods of service. Additionally, proof of service protocols and restrictions around evasion of service are also required knowledge.

Obtain Proper Licensing

While a handful of states don’t require process servers to hold licenses or registrations, most mandate some form of official legal credential issued by a county, court or statewide agency.

Common licensing requirements include: Maintaining bodily injury insurance; passing a criminal background check; meeting minimum age standards; having a valid driver’s license and reliable transportation; paying registration fees that often need renewal.

Cultivate Essential Skills

Beyond memorizing various process serving rules, certified servers also sharpen useful skills like:

Communication: Clearly explaining legal concepts and answering questions from defendants being served.

Conflict resolution: Keeping calm and professional if a defendant becomes upset or resistant to accepting service.

Organization: Carefully recording details around each service attempt and defendant response for affidavits and court records.

Research: Utilizing databases and investigating public records to securely identify and swiftly locate defendants.

Accountability: Understanding the legal implications of process serving work and ensuring conformity with relevant regulations.

What Happens After Service?

You might assume the process server’s job ends once those court documents have successfully been delivered. But they’ve still got an important affidavit to supply as proof the process was carried out properly.

This official affidavit of service (sometimes called “proof of service”) describes the who, when, where, how and what of the process serving details. Documents and details process servers must record include:

  • Date and location of service
  • Copies of served documents
  • Manner of service (personal, substitute, etc.)
  • Specific person served
  • Any notable interactions or remarks from defendant

The court reviews the affidavit to verify appropriate service was completed before moving forward with the case.

Now once defendants receive service, the ball shifts to their court (quite literally, hey-o!). They must provide an official response and appear before the court on the compelled date or risk facing a daunting default judgment against them.

Additional Process Server Perks

Providing official notice of legal complaints and court dates makes up the crux of process servers’ work. But many certified servers offer additional services that further grease the wheels of the law.

If you hire a process server, take advantage of these handy extra duties they can perform such as filing court documents so strict deadlines are met, retrieving records from courthouses to support cases, researching courthouse databases for title searches, deeds, liens and more, conducting asset searches to support financial judgements, and providing court specified notice when seizing property.

Wrapping Things Up

At first glance, process servers seem to play a humble role in the grand scheme of the legal system. But without their due diligence guaranteeing proper notice gets delivered to all parties, lawsuits would sputter and Constitutional rights would be trampled.

These unsung heroes endure the thankless effort of tracking down defendants who often expressly try to evade them. They put up with potential verbal harassment in high-emotion situations most would flee from. All while meticulously upholding complex rules dictating how, when and where service can happen.

Process servers are the glue binding due process protections and access to fair justice guaranteed to every American under the law. So next time you get handed a jury duty summons or receive divorce papers from a process server, thank them for dedicating their careers to safeguarding civil liberties for all.

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