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What Exactly Can a Process Server Do to Serve Papers?
Being served with divorce papers can be more than a little annoying. Depending on how and where you are served, you may feel completely caught off guard. However, process serving is vital in a lawsuit to ensure that you are given proper notice of the case.
Now, Florida law specifies how service must be completed. Generally speaking, service must be accomplished in-person, as opposed to through the mail. This requires hand-delivery by an individual referred to as a process server.
It’s important for the person filing the lawsuit to follow the rules regarding service. Failure to do so could result in the case being thrown out and having to start the lawsuit over. But, there is no reason for the process server to be overly aggressive or break the law.
Basic Rules for Service of Process
Note that under Florida law, service of process must be completed by the Sheriff in the county where the defendant can be located. However, a sheriff can establish a list of people designated as process servers. These individuals are certified and appointed by the Sheriff to carry out these duties.
Now, there are a few ways that service may be accomplished. The most common way is to deliver a copy of the Complaint or other legal filing to the Defendant. A process server may also leave copies of the paperwork at the person’s house. However, the documents must be received by someone at the home who is at least 15 years of age.
It’s important to note that the person being served must be made aware of the nature of the documents. This means that the process server cannot simply leave the paperwork in the mailbox. Further, if the documents are part of a divorce, the person being served cannot be the spouse that filed the lawsuit. This is true even if the couple is currently living together in the same household.
Another option is to serve the Defendant while at work. In this case, the process server must contact the employer first to let them know that they will be attempting service. The employer must comply with this request or could face a $1,000 fine. Note that if the Defendant owns his or her own business as a sole proprietor, the process server may leave the paperwork at the Defendant’s place of business during regular business hours.
In the case of a defendant-owned business, the process server has two attempts to serve the owner directly. If these attempts fail, the paperwork may be left with the person who is in charge.
Additional Rules for Process Servers
It’s important to note that a defendant cannot be served on a Sunday. Doing so will result in the service being declared void. Further, if the defendant lives out of state, the process server must follow the rules of that state. This may involve contacting the county sheriff in that state or coordinating with local process servers.
In situations where an individual eludes service, the process server may leave the paperwork in the person’s home mailbox. An example would be where a defendant either runs away from the process server or refuses to come to the door.
What If the Defendant Can’t Be Found?
In some cases, despite the process server’s best efforts, a defendant simply cannot be found. In these situations, the process server can file what is known as an Affidavit of Diligent Search and Inquiry. This allows for what is referred to as “constructive service” or “service by publication.”
To qualify, the process server must provide the court with the Defendant’s last known address, as well as information regarding the attempts made to serve the person. Note that there is a high bar for allowing this exception. The court requires the process server to verify that several places were checked in an attempt to find the Defendant.
Examples of locations and resources that must be checked include:
Department of corrections
Department of motor vehicles
Telephone listings, and
If the court approves the Affidavit, the process server must then publish notice in a local paper in the legal notice section. The notice must run for 32 days. This publication is meant to give the Defendant an opportunity to be made aware of the pending lawsuit. After filing an additional affidavit stating that the notice was published, service is considered complete and the case may move forward.