“It may be the devil, and it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” – Bob Dylan
Although I think Dylan was making more of a theological statement than a legal one, it is true: At some point point in your life, you are probably going to have to serve someone. You might as well know what’s up.
(Nerdy aside; Skip if desired) One of the cool things about our legal system is that you have due process. This essentially means that when someone sues you, you have a right to know about it and know what he or she is saying about you. You also have the right to be “heard”—to go before a judge and argue your point.
That is why we have rules about how to serve someone. The rules make sure that the person being served
1) knows what is being said about them; and
2) knows how and when they have to respond.
These are not the kind of rules on which you can fudge. You’ve got to follow them very closely, which is the point of me bringing it up in the first place. If you want to serve someone and you’re not a lawyer, a road map might be helpful.
First, you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got the right documents to serve. This normally includes a Complaint and a Summons. The Complaint is what starts a lawsuit, and it contains all the reasons why the court should do what you want. The Complaint is important because it tells the other party why they’re being dragged into court.
The Summons is different. You have to serve a Summons so that the other party knows what to do once they’ve been served. The Arkansas Supreme Court has a “form” summons that you can download from its website and simply fill in the information. This makes the Summons part easy. No reason to be creative here.
Now that you have a Complaint and Summons filed, you’ve got to get that stuff to the other party. You have several options for this:
1) Hire a process server. This is my preferred method because it’s clean and easy. In Central Arkansas you can plan on spending about 50 bucks for service. Most of the process servers will even file their affidavit of service, too—which means you don’t have to do anything else.
2) Have a police officer serve the documents. It probably doesn’t surprise you to know that law enforcement personnel have better things to do than serve people. For this reason, I shy away from this method. They aren’t as motivated as the people who get paid to do it.
3) Mail them. You can mail the documents to the opposing party as long as you mail them with a return receipt requested and have the delivery restricted to that person. You can then file the little green card that you get back from the postman.
One last thing that is important, however, is what to do if you don’t know where a person is.
If you don’t know where a person lives, you can serve him or her through a warning order. The first thing you’ve got to do to serve by warning order is to file an affidavit with the court saying that you’ve tried to find them. You can attach to this affidavit any returned envelopes or other evidence that you’ve actually tried to find them.
The clerk will then issue a warning order, which is a notice that’s published in the paper. It has to be a publication of general circulation in the county where you filed the law suit. I’m not exactly sure what that means, so to be on the safe side you should just use the largest newspaper in the county. It has to run for two consecutive weeks
The newspaper will then publish it and send you a proof of publication. Then you’ve got to file that with the Court and mail all the stuff (affidavit for warning order, warning order, proof of publication, complaint, summons, and pretty much anything else you can think of) to the person with restricted delivery.
If you don’t believe me or just want to know more, you can go here and read Rule 4.