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The plaintiff has to serve you with the lawsuit papers before the lawsuit can go forward.  Usually, “getting served” means that the constable or a process server has to physically hand you a copy of the lawsuit.  But, in some circumstances, it is possible to “get served” with the lawsuit by some other method.

This article will discuss the different ways a creditor can serve you with the lawsuit.

Personal Service

The most common method of service is personal service by a constable or process server.  Under this method, the constable or process server physically hands you a copy of the lawsuit papers.  You don’t need to sign anything to “get served”: the constable or process server just has to hand you a copy of the papers.

It is OK to serve anyone over 16 at your residence

Legally, the constable or process server can serve the lawsuit papers on (hand the papers to) anybody 16 or older at your residence.  So legally, they can serve your spouse or parent or sibling or even your 16-year-old child.  As a practical matter, most plaintiffs instruct their process servers to serve you and you only, but service on another person at your residence is legally valid.

Certified Mail – Justice Court Only

In Justice Court, also known as Small Claims Court or JP Court, the creditor can serve you by certified mail.  Some Justice Courts have the constable’s office send out the letter, while others have court personnel send out the letter.  There is no requirement that you actually receive (sign for or pick up) the letter.  Legally, you could be considered served even if you never pick up the letter from the post office.

My personal experience, however, is that most Justice Courts require you to actually sign for the letter in order to be considered “served.”

Attach to Door – Court Permission Required

Under some circumstances, the creditor can serve you by taping a copy of the lawsuit papers to your door.  The creditor needs prior court permission to serve you by this method.  But courts routinely grant that permission when a constable or process server requests it.

So if you find a copy of a lawsuit taped to your door or stuck in your door, you have been served.

Deadline to File Answer

Your deadline to file your Answer is triggered by the date you are served with the lawsuit papers.  The next article—When Is My Answer Due?—goes over the deadlines and what you need to do to meet them.

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