How Legal Papers Are Delivered (Service)

Delivering legal papers is called “service of process”. The law says that legal papers have to be “served” (delivered) the right way. Every adult and organization listed in the case must be served with its own set of papers. This includes any papers that are mailed.


Who Can Serve Legal Papers

A party in the case can never serve legal papers, like a Summons and Complaint, a Notice of Petition and Petition, or a Motion, unless a Judge gives permission. A process server can be paid to serve the papers. Process servers are listed in the Yellow Pages or on the internet. Or, a friend, for example, can serve the papers, but, the person serving the papers must be 18 years old or older. A party in the case can go with the person serving the papers when they are served. In NYC, the person serving the papers is not allowed to serve more than five legal papers each year.


Starting a Case

If legal papers are not served (delivered) the right way when a case is started, the Judge may make the party starting the case start all over again. This is called a dismissal without prejudice. There are three ways to deliver legal papers to start a case.

  1. Personal delivery. The papers are handed to the defendant or respondent. This is the easiest way to serve papers. Papers can be handed to the other side anywhere. Papers can’t be served on Sundays or on a person's religious observance days. In New York City for Housing Court cases, papers should be served between 6:00 in the morning and 10:00 at night.
  2. Substituted delivery. Papers are left with someone else to give to the defendant or respondent and copies of the papers are mailed. Read the rules for this kind of service.
  3. Conspicuous delivery. If personal or substituted delivery can’t be done, papers are left in a place where they are likely to be found and copies of the papers are mailed. Read the rules for this kind of service.

After papers are delivered to the other side, proof of this must be given to the court. This is done by Filing an Affidavit of Service.


Delivering Legal Papers During the Case

After the case is started by the plaintiff or petitioner, all legal papers that need to be served (delivered) can be given to the other side in person or by regular mail, before giving the original papers to the court. Sample Affidavit of Service and Affidavit of Service By Mail. But,Orders to Show Cause are served the way the Judge says they should be delivered. If the other side has a lawyer, papers are only served (delivered) at the address listed by the lawyer on the legal papers. Some legal papers, like motion papers, have time limits about when they have to be mailed. Whenever legal papers are served, proof of their delivery has to be given to the court by Filing an Affidavit of Service. Remember, a party in the case can’t mail or deliver the papers.


If Papers are Not Delivered the Right Way

If legal papers are not delivered (served) the way the law requires them to be served, the papers may not count. For example, if papers starting a case are not delivered the right way the defendant or respondent can either tell the judge in their written Answer or on the court date. This is a defense to the case. In fact, the defendant or respondent can ask the Court to dismiss the case for bad service. Similarly, a judge may refuse to read a defendant’s or respondent’s opposition papers if the papers were not served properly (the right way). See Common Examples of Bad Service. The reason why it is important to make sure that both sides are served properly is that the court wants to make sure that both sides in a case know what is going on in a case (notice) and have an opportunity to respond to what is being said. If the judge decides that the service is bad, the case is over. But, the plaintiff or petitioner can start the case again.

YouTube DIY Forms Ask a Law Librarian