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How To Serve Someone You Can’t Find For A Legal Case

| September 29, 2023

Discover alternative ways to serve someone you can’t find for a legal case. Sometimes, people involved in a lawsuit will evade being served court documents. Some defendants would rather not be held accountable for their actions and may go to great lengths to avoid being served. On the other hand, witnesses would hesitate to come forward because they fear for their safety or want to stay out of the drama.

For plaintiffs, this is a frustrating scenario that can delay the progress of a case. In this article, we’ll discuss methods that you can use to find elusive persons with the help of a process server. So, read on!

What Happens When Court Papers Are Not Served Within The Set Time Frame?

In a legal case, time is of the essence. This is why there are strict deadlines for serving court papers to all involved parties. The set time frame varies depending on the type of lawsuit and jurisdiction but typically ranges from a few weeks to a few months.

If court papers are not served within this time frame, it could cause serious problems for you as the plaintiff. The judge may dismiss your case, and you will have to start all over again. This is not only a waste of time and resources but can also be emotionally draining.

In some cases, if court papers are not properly served, it could lead to a default judgment in favor of the defendant. This means that, even if the defendant was at fault, they do not have to pay for damages or face any legal consequences.

In short, not being able to serve someone involved in a legal case can greatly impact the outcome of the lawsuit. That’s why you should explore alternative methods for serving someone not found when the traditional serving method fails.

How To Serve Someone You Can’t Locate

Typically, process servers deliver court papers through personal service. This involves finding the defendant or a witness at their residence or office and discretely handing the documents to them personally. However, there are cases when this method is not possible. Here’s how to serve someone you can’t locate.

Certified Mail

This is the most common alternative method for serving someone avoiding service. The process server mails the court papers through certified mail to the defendant’s last known address. The postal service will require a signature for delivery, and if successful, a return receipt will be sent back to you as proof of service.

Serving Someone With A Hidden Address

Now, what if you don’t know the person’s mailing address? Or, what if they moved to another place without leaving any information about their whereabouts?

One good way to solve this problem is to send a letter to the last known address with a “Return Service Requested” notice. The US Postal Service will then return the letter to you with the person’s forwarding address, given that the agency has it on file.

Another approach to serving someone with a hidden address is to use professional skip tracing. These services use various databases and public records to track down people who have moved or changed their contact information.

Substituted Service

Through this method, the court will permit you to use a third party in serving evasive individuals. This is done by leaving the legal documents at the defendant’s property, sending them through e-mail or text, or through other means.

However, remember that you can only use a substituted service if the following conditions are met.

  • The defendant is deliberately avoiding being served, making personal service impractical.
  • The defendant is aware of the lawsuit and its content.
  • There’s a high chance that the substitute service will reach the defendant.

When you use a substituted service, make sure that your process server writes and signs a Declaration of Due Diligence. This document will serve as proof that the server made all necessary efforts to serve the court papers through personal service before resorting to a substitute method.

Service By Publication

To serve someone through publication, you must first get approval from the court. This means that you need to provide evidence that all other options have been exhausted.

Service by publication involves publishing a notice in a newspaper or legal publication designated by the court. The notice should include the details of the lawsuit, including the names of all parties involved and a summary of the case. It should also be published in publications that are most likely to reach the defendant.

After publishing the notice, you must file proof with the court that you have completed this method of service. This is usually done by providing a copy of the published notice and an affidavit from the publication stating the date and place of publication.

Service By Posting

Unlike service by publication, service by posting means that your process server or a court clerk will post the summons or other legal documents at a place in the courthouse designated for court notices. To be able to use this method, you must first qualify for it. Here are the steps that you should take.

1. Request and fill out an application form for an order for posting from the court.

2. Fill out a form to request a fee waiver.

3. File your forms with the clerk and inquire when you will know the judge’s decision.

4. Pick up the order for service for posting from the clerk to find out what the judge decided.     

There are times when judges decide you did not qualify for this method. In these situations, you can check out the order and find out the grounds for the denial. Then, you can correct them and re-apply.

Electronic Service

This method typically involves transferring legal documents digitally using popular online platforms, such as social media. With the increasing reliance on technology, electronic service is becoming a more common and convenient way to serve someone you can’t find. Through this method, the defendant will be notified of the lawsuit through their email or social media account.

However, not all courts allow electronic service, so check with your local court rules before proceeding. Some states also require written consent from the defendant before electronic service can be used. Additionally, you must make sure that the recipient is the correct person and that they’re aware of the legal proceedings.

Process servers have in-depth knowledge of how to serve papers to someone you can’t find, so do not hesitate to work to navigate difficulties in serving the defendant. Remember, finding alternative methods to serve someone isn’t about being sneaky or deceitful but rather ensuring that due process is followed and justice can be served.

So, always follow the proper procedures and make sure all necessary documents are filed with the court to avoid any complications in your legal case.

How To Serve Someone Who Lives Outside The Country?

If you’re serving someone who is living outside the country, make sure to follow the protocols stipulated in the Hague Service Convention. This treaty outlines the proper way to serve someone outside the US and covers 82 countries.

The process usually involves submitting a request to the central authority in your state, which will then send it to the appropriate agency in the defendant’s country. However, if the defendant cannot be located or refuses to accept service, you may need to go through a longer and more complicated legal process.

In these situations, it’s best to seek the help of an international process server who has experience in serving individuals outside the US. 

Other Ways Of Finding And Serving Someone Not Found

Apart from the methods mentioned above, there are other ways for gathering information and serving papers to a person in hiding that you can do on your part.

  • Utilize Social Media – Nowadays, almost everyone has a social media account. You can use this platform to find the defendant’s location or any other information that can help with serving them.
  • Reach Out to the Person’s Family and Friends – If you know someone close to the defendant, you can ask for their help in locating them. They may have information on where the person is currently residing.
  • Inquire the Last Known Workplace – If the defendant is employed, their workplace may have updated information on their whereabouts. You can try reaching out to them and ask for assistance.
  • Use a People Search Finder Service – There are people search finder services online that can help you locate someone’s current address, phone number, and other contact information.
  • Call “411” – If you have a hunch that the person is in a particular city, you can try calling the local directory assistance, also known as “411”. They may have a record of the person’s current contact information.

With a bit of creativity and determination, these are quick and easy ways to process serving for missing persons.


Remember, you must exhaust all possible options before resorting to alternative methods to serve someone you can’t find. This not only ensures that due process is followed but also increases your chances of having a successful legal case. Work closely with your process server and follow the proper procedures to save time, and effort, and avoid violating any law or right.

For more useful legal tips and information, please check out our other posts!

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