Serving Court Papers

Authored By: Florida Justice Technology Center


Why do I need to serve court papers?

If you start a case with the court, or sue someone, you must tell the other person(s) or company you are filing against.  But you cannot just tell the other party, you need to give the person a copy of all the papers you filed with the court. The court also needs proof that the other party received the papers. This is called service of process.

The court is not responsible for service, you are responsible for getting the papers to the other person.  Without following all the court’s rules for service of process, your case may not move forward.

What papers do I need to serve? 

When you start a court case, the first court paper you usually file is a complaint or petition. When you file the complaint you will get a court form called a summons. The summons tells the person to appear in court on a certain date or time. These papers need to be served on the other party. Also, any other paperwork you file with the court must also be served on the other person.  If you file any paperwork more than 60 days after a case has ended, you also need to serve the person the same way as the complaint and summons. 

Which person do I serve? 

If you are suing one person, serve the person you are suing. If you are suing more than 1 person, serve each person you are suing.

Where can the other party be served?

The other party may be personally served almost anywhere like at home, at work or on the street. But you cannot serve someone who is traveling to or from court. 

When can papers be served? 

In general, all papers can be served any day of the week except Sunday.  

Can I serve someone myself? 

No, you may not personally serve papers in your own case.  A Sheriff, a person appointed by the sheriff called a special process server or a certified process server must serve the other person. 

How do I use a sheriff to serve someone? 

Contact the sheriff’s office in the county where the other person lives to to serve the papers on the other party.  The office can tell you how much you need to pay and what you need to provide. Generally, you will need to deliver all the papers and their copies, the other party's name, address, phone number and other descriptive information.   

How do I hire a process server?

A process server is a certified professional who serves documents as part of their business for a fee. You can find a process server by searching for one in your local phone book or on the internet. 

If you hire a process server, give them a photo of the person they have to serve (if you have one) and a list of times and places when it will be easy to find that person. Look for a process server who is close to where the other side lives or works.  

How much time do I have to serve the other party? 

You have 120 days from the date you file your complaint (“after filing of the initial pleading…”). If you need more time, you can ask the Court for more time.  

What can I do to try to find the other party for personal service?

  • You must make an honest and reasonable search to try to find the other party for personal service. Follow up on any information you get that may help you find the other party for personal service.
  • Try calling possible phone numbers for the other party.
  • Ask the Postal Service for a forwarding address from the last known address you have. Look in the white pages of the phone book for all cities where s/he might live.
  •  Call every friend, roommate, or family member of the opposing party that you know. Ask about an address.They may not have all the information but even if they only know what city he or she may have moved to, the information can be helpful to you. You can also explain to them why you need to find this person and even if they do not want to give you the person’s contact information, they may be willing to contact him or her on your behalf and give him or her your contact information so he or she can get in touch with you and find out what you want. For some cases, like, for example, a divorce, the other person may also want to be divorced so it would be to his or her advantage to give you a way to get in touch with them.
  • Check sources on the internet for finding people’s addresses like or free online telephone directories
  • Check with present or former employers or unions or co-workers to try to get a home address or a place of work.
  • Remember to search for the person’s legal name and any nicknames.
  • Call "411" for the city or cities where you think the person may live or work.  If the person is listed, you may be able to get his or her address. Or you may only get the phone number, but you can use the phone number to try other things to get the address.
  • Search social networking sites. You can search popular social network sites where people often list their name, location, and perhaps other information you can find helpful. Or, you may be able to email them through the social network site if you think they may cooperate with you and give you information so you can serve them with legal papers
  • If the person you are trying to find owns property, search property records.

What happens if I cannot find the other person? 

If the court date comes and you have not been able to serve the papers, you should give the judge a written list of all of the ways you tried to serve the respondent. The list should include dates and places where you tried to have the respondent served. Places can include the home, the place of work, or the school of the respondent, or any place else where you think the respondent may be. The judge may set a new date for the case and ask you to keep trying. Or the judge may say you can serve the papers in another way. 

I am filing a lawsuit for $5,000 or less. Can the legal papers be served by certified mail, return receipt requested? 

Yes, but only on Florida residents. Lawsuits up to $5,000 (excluding court costs, interest and attorneys fees) are called small claims cases and your local clerk’s office may be able to assist you in serving papers by certified mail at no charge except the actual cost of mailing.


Updated: May 8, 2017 

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