National Association of Professional Process Servers

Frequently Asked Questions

Hiring a process server is an important step in ensuring a legal matter is heard by the court. Process servers provide defendants with notice of a pending lawsuit asserted against him/her. Process servers are important because they help uphold due process of law. Read on to learn more about the importance of process servers and how to you achieve service of process. 

What is Due Process?

The U.S. Constitution requires that no person is deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of the law. In accordance with due process, the process server performs an important function of protecting the defendant's rights by providing him/her with notice of a lawsuit/legal proceeding filed against him/her. Initially, a county’s sheriff served legal papers on defendants. As cities populations grew, process servers were used to alleviate the demand of ensuring documents were served in a timely manner.

Proper service of process officially establishes jurisdiction over the defendant. Once a party is properly served, he/she must appear in court. If the defendant is properly served, and is aware that he/she is required to come to court, but fails to do so, the plaintiff can request a default judgment against the defendant.

What Duties Does a Process Server Perform?

A process server is required to deliver a variety of legal documents to a party of a lawsuit. This includes writs, subpoenas to produce documents and/or testify in court, formal complaints, and a summons to appear in court. A process server can help you track down a defendant to provide service of process. Most states equires neutral third parties over 18-years-old to serve court documents, litigants often hire process servers.

Once a complaint is filed, the plaintiff is required to personally serve it on the defendant. There are limited circumstances in which substituted service of process may be allowed including service by publication.

Service of Process vs. Service of Subsequent Documents

Service of process must be distinguished from service of subsequent documents. Service of process deals with providing a party with notice that a legal proceeding or lawsuit has been filed against him/her. The service of subsequent documents, such as motion papers or discovery between parties, occurs during the proceeding. Depending on the type of request being filed, for example a subpoena of business records, a process server may be required to personally serve the documents on the defendant.  Review your local court rules to learn more about party notice requirements.

Should You Hire a Process Server?

Yes. Hiring a registered process server can help ensure your legal documents are delivered to the opposing party. A registered process server knows and understands the complex laws of process-serving. Teaming up with a competent process server can help you save time and money by avoiding common service of process pitfalls. A process server can help you track down a “hard to find” individual, or a person who attempts to avoid service all together.

Once a complaint is filed with the court, the plaintiff will have a specified period of time to serve the court summons and complaint on the defendant. If the plaintiff is unable to serve the defendant within that time-frame, the plaintiff will have to refile his/her complaint and start the service of process all over again. A complaint will not proceed unless proof is provided to the court that the defendant has received proper notice. This prompts the plaintiff into quickly serving the defendant. Hiring a registered process server can help ensure the defendant receives the court summons and complaint in a timely manner.

In addition to the initial personal service requirement, subsequent legal documents filed on each party must be responded to within a specified period of time. A process server is often used to ensure subsequent legal documents are served in a timely manner.

How Much Does a Process Server Costs?

The price of a service of process differs throughout United States. The total costs will depend on how many attempts the process server is required to make to serve the defendant and the distance he/she has to travel to do so. Out-of-state process server’s costs are higher. In addition, same day or rush services are billed at a higher rate. The national average of serving legal papers ranges between $55 - $75. When hiring a process server, you should ask how much it will costs, how long it will take to serve the documents, and the number of attempts the server will make.

Process servers are not allowed to use any means necessary to achieve service. Process Servers are required to operate within the law to ensure service is rendered legally. Remember, a plaintiff is not allowed to perform service of process. The plaintiff must utilize a neutral third party who is a disinterested third party, who is over 18 years of age. 

An important step to effectively rendering service of process is completing the Affidavit of Service.  The Affidavit of Service, also known as proof of service, is a sworn testimony signed by the process server. It is supporting delivery of case-related papers to one or more parties in a legal matter. It certifies service of a notice, summons, writ, or process. It shall also state the time, manner, and method of delivery in a summary manner.  It provides a detailed account of how service of process was performed upon a specified party regarding a legal proceeding.

The affidavit includes information pertaining to the time, date, manner of service, and the identity of the person served.

Upon serving legal documents, the process server is required to file the proof of service with the local court to show that service of process was properly performed.  If the proof of service is not filed with the court, the legal proceeding may be challenged and dismissed for improper service of process.

If a server is unable to render proper service, then he or she will still need to include a signed declaration stating that he or she made a good faith attempt to serve the specified party and provide detailed information of such attempts.  Thus, if there is a challenge in court as to whether service of process was properly performed, the affidavit of non-service can be used to show that a good-faith attempt was made to contact the required party.  See Rue v. Quinn. 137 Cal. 651, 655 (66 P. 216, 70 P. 732).

How Fraudulent Affidavits of Service Impact Legal Matters

Unfortunately, not all process servers are honest. Some servers may attest to un-accurate facts within their affidavit of service.  If this occurs, the underlying cause of action may be dismissed due to improper service of process.

If a server makes fraudulent statements regarding service, he or she may be prosecuted for criminal conduct such as the forgery of court documents.  Further, the server may also incur a civil suit from the affected party.  Thus, it is important that a party utilizes an honest and reputable process server.

If you are the victim of a fraudulent process service, then you may be able to take civil legal action against the server.  You will need to contact legal counsel for more information.

When preparing for a tough and potentially stressful court case, one important consideration is how to ensure court papers make it to the right party. With the complex laws of process serving, it is important to choose someone who can complete the task quickly, legally, and efficiently.

There are two options when choosing someone to serve court papers in California: a process server or a deputy sheriff. Selecting a deputy sheriff can be the easier route. But a recent survey of legal professionals suggests that professional process servers are preferable to their sheriff counterparts. The survey, conducted by the process server network ServeNow, polled 100 paralegals, legal assistants, and legal secretaries. 78% of those polled preferred process servers in a number of areas, including speed, knowledge of laws, and success rate.

Knowledge of Laws

The attention and duties of a sheriff are divided, but a registered process server focuses solely on the laws related to service of process. According to the poll, their practice and expertise make them far more efficient. 58% of legal professionals reported that professional process services are more knowledgeable than sheriffs in the complexities of the law.

Rate of Success

Even more impressive is the reported success rate of professional servers. Most Process Server work 6 to 7 days a week with 10-14 hour days including nights, holidays and weekends. Nine out of 10 poll participants ranked professional serves above sheriffs in effectiveness. Law professionals who hired a private process server found a 92% rate of success, while professionals who used a sheriff reported a success rate of 78%. A low success rate can translate to costly delays in court proceedings or even a full case dismissal.


The only area in which sheriffs received a higher rank was in overall cost. The nationwide average fee for a process server is $60.00, while the average fee for a sheriff is $40.00. However, according to reports, even the cost differential is negligible. The fee structure of a process server usually accounts for multiple attempts and other fees. The sheriff’s price does not include these additional fees or mileage costs.

A sheriff is an option in some cases,but when it comes to reliability and expertise, a professional server might be worth the extra pay.