When someone files a lawsuit against another party, they have to “serve” the other parties with those legal papers. For example, if you file for divorce, you have to serve your spouse with the divorce complaint and summons. If a party is not properly served with the papers, then they are not considered to have proper “notice” of the legal claim; the case can be dismissed, and if a judgment was entered against them, it can be reversed. Service of process can be accomplished in a few ways, including by hiring a process server to serve the papers.
Pop culture has made it seem like process servers will use fake names and disguises to sneakily trap the defendant into accepting service, and that a defendant can avoid a lawsuit by avoiding the process server or refusing to physically accept the papers. As usual, the reality is more practical and mundane. Read on to learn about how process servers can operate in New Jersey, and call a knowledgeable Englewood divorce and family law attorney for help with a New Jersey family law matter.
How Can Process Servers Serve Papers?
Process servers can serve parties with court papers in person or, as explained below, by mail. Physical service is usually accomplished by knocking on the party’s door, confirming their identity, and handing them the papers. If the party won’t answer the door or isn’t home, the process server can take reasonable steps to get the papers to the party. They can, among other things:
- Wait in a public place nearby the home
- Attempt service at the party’s place of work, or wait in a public place nearby their workplace
- Approach the party in a public place, such as a parking lot, sidewalk, or grocery store
- Knock on the door at other homes where the party might be located (friends, family, partners, etc.)
- Hand the papers to another adult at the party’s home
In New Jersey, papers can only be served in person Monday through Saturday between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. Process servers cannot show up on Sundays or late at night/early morning.
Physically handing the papers to the party is not strictly necessary. According to New Jersey’s court rules, if personal service cannot be effected “after a reasonable and good faith attempt,” then notice can be accomplished by mailing the papers to the “usual place of abode” of the party via certified or registered mail. The plaintiff can also direct the post office to deliver the papers to the addressee only at their place of work. If the party refuses to accept the certified mail, ordinary mail is acceptable. So, the defendant cannot get out of being sued by avoiding the process server or by refusing to sign for the papers received via mail. At some point, they are deemed to have notice, so long as the plaintiff has made best efforts.
What Aren’t Process Servers Allowed to Do?
Process servers cannot break the law in pursuit of service. They cannot break into a home or business, they cannot break into a mailbox, they cannot threaten with violence, and they cannot physically assault the recipient. They cannot trespass on property. They cannot impersonate a law enforcement officer or an officer of the court. They cannot leave the papers with a minor at the home. As noted above, they also cannot serve papers late at night or on Sundays.
They also cannot simply leave the papers at the door if the person is not home. If personal service is required, they must hand over the papers or serve by mail as discussed above.
Seasoned Advice and Representation for New Jersey Family Law Matters
If you’re considering divorce in New Jersey or dealing with child support, child custody, property division, or other family law issues, contact the Englewood family law attorneys Herbert & Weiss at (201) 500-2151.