Being served court papers by a process server is never a pleasant experience, but you might be wondering if you can avoid the whole process altogether. After all, you can’t be served court papers if nobody knows where you are, right? Actually it’s not quite that straightforward.
If someone decides to serve you with court papers, it can be a tempting idea to try to avoid receiving them. Some people will take extreme measures to evade being served. Are they ever successful? Continue reading to find out.
Avoiding a process server isn’t that simple. They tend to get the job done regardless of whether they are delivering divorce papers, a small court claim or something else.
You might be trying to evade the process server but they are professionals and will do their utmost to find you in order to get their job done. This involves both tenaciousness and some private investigation work on their part.
You Will Likely Face a Stakeout
The process server has a range of direct and indirect methods to make sure you receive those papers. Sitting outside your home or job until you show up is a common practice. The term for this is a stakeout.
Most individuals don’t have the resources to up and leave their job and house, so they will be at one or the other at some point. When they show up, the process server will go up to them, explain what is going on, and give them the relevant documents.
Can You Refuse to Accept the Documents?
Your refusal to take the papers doesn’t do much to postpone the legal process, although every state has its own laws as regards this.
If you have been identified by the process server, they can leave the papers with you even if you refuse to accept them physically. Either way, if they find you and serve you, you can consider yourself served!
What if You Do Manage to Avoid the Process Server?
Don’t expect your luck to last if you do manage to avoid being found, because the papers can be sub-served on your behalf to anyone over the age of 18 who does one of the following:
- Is a resident in your home
- Is in charge of your usual mailing address
- Works at the same place as you
So even if you aren’t present, if you have someone else living in your house, working at your place of business or being in charge of the address where your mail goes, you can be served without actually being physically present.
In addition, it is possible for the recipient of the documents not to be aware of what they are signing for. They think they are signing for an important piece of mail, but not necessarily a court summons.
Even if the actual papers never reach your doorstep, workplace or your own hands, you are not in the clear. You can consider it a delay rather than a complete evasion.
Even if you don’t live with anyone else and don’t have a place of business, the process server still has ways. They might approach the judge and ask permission to publish a notice in a local newspaper or similar. The most likely outcome is that it will be published in a legal notices newspaper, which means most people will not see it.
The best recommendation is to spend your energy on preparing a strategy for court, rather than trying to avoid being served in the first place, because it will catch up with you at some point unless you really want to spend the rest of your life on the run!
Also read: What Happens if You Don’t Pay Bail Bonds
You’ve Been Served: Now What?
You need to take action as soon as you have been served. Depending on why you were served, this could mean facing a lawsuit or divorce, or it could mean you have to pay an outstanding debt.
It is compulsory for you to respond, and depending on the papers you were served with, you have anything from 24 hours to 30 days to file your response with the court. This can be done by First class Mail on the petitioner or plaintiff.
The best advice at this point is to seek legal counsel to help you with your answer. Rushing a response or coming up with a bad one might cause you more legal problems than the initial summons did. You must draft a thorough response. Check every single word in the summons and ensure every allegation made against you is responded to.
Answering the Summons
The response you make to the initial complaint against you is going to be your defense. You will need to prepare this in a timely way, so it is important not to delay responding or seeking legal counsel once you receive the summons. You will need to have someone uninvolved in the case serve your response to the opposing party.
Different documents have their own timelines, but typically you need to use First Class Mail and provide proof of serving the opposing party to the court. A process server can usually help you with this and they are typically cheaper that a personal in-hand mail deliver service.
There are three alternatives to avoid submitting a response and these are:
- Coming up with a settlement
- Filing a motion to dismiss the whole case
- Filing a counterclaim
Let’s look at each of these options in more detail.
Settling the Case
This is when you make an offer to come up with a resolution which satisfies both you and the plaintiff, to settle whatever dispute you are having. Remember the importance of creating an agreeable negotiation before you submit your response. Unless your plaintiff wants to settle easily, your offer might be refused.
Motion to Dismiss
If a client thinks the plaintiff failed to state a claim or if there is not enough jurisdictions for the case, they can file a motion to dismiss. The judge then decides whether or not your motion is valid. If your motion to dismiss is denied, then you might only have a short time left to work on an answer to your summons.
If you then ignore the claims and do not submit a response, you should expect a default judgement in the plaintiff’s favor, and this judgement is legally binding, so you might as well at least attempt to answer.
Filing a Counterclaim
This is the third approach, and it means to respond to the charge against you with your own charge against the plaintiff, as a means of opposing them to combat their claim. This of course needs to be a valid claim.
The best way to decide which of the three approaches, if any, are recommended would be to seek legal counsel. An attorney is a must-have unless you yourself have a legal background. Even for small claims court cases it is best to have legal counsel assisting you with your defense or counterclaim.
What If You are the One Who Wants to Serve Papers?
So what happens if you are the plaintiff, and the one who wants to have papers served on the defendant? The best way to deal with this is to hire an experienced process server to assist you with the delivery of the papers.
This way you can begin proceedings against an individual and get the ball rolling. The sooner you have those papers served, the sooner you can get into court and hopefully win your case.