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How Do You Serve Someone Who Won’t Answer the Door: Ways to Handle a No-Show for Litigation

You are filing a case against someone, and you want to serve them with a lawsuit. You go to their house, but they are not there. You might even think that they are avoiding you. Now what? How do you serve someone who won’t answer the door?

In this article, we will discuss the different ways to serve a process or legal documents when you cannot find the person or they refuse to answer the summons.

Understanding Service of Process

A service of process is the formal delivery of a summons, complaint, or other legal documents to a party in a lawsuit. This is usually done by hand-delivering the documents to the person being sued (the “defendant”).

The purpose of service of process is two-fold.

  1. To give notice to the defendant that they are being sued and what the allegations are against them.
  2. To have a record of proof that the defendant was properly served with the lawsuit so that the case can move forward in court.

What Happens If You Avoid a Summons?

If you are being sued, and you avoid or refuse to accept the service of the summons and complaint, the court can still enter a judgment against you. This is called “default judgment”.

A default judgment can be entered against you if…

  • The plaintiff (the person suing you) files a request with the court asking for a default judgment because you have not responded to the lawsuit.
  • The court clerk enters a default against you after finding that you were properly served with the summons and complaint but did not respond to the lawsuit.

Once a default judgment is entered, the plaintiff can ask the court to issue an order requiring you to pay money or take some other action. The plaintiff can also ask the court to garnish your wages or put a lien on your property.

Is It Illegal to Avoid Being Served?

There is no specific law that makes it illegal to avoid being served with legal papers. However, if you intentionally avoid service of process, the court may hold you in “contempt of court”. This means that you can be fined or even jailed for disobeying a court order.

In some states, there are laws that make it a crime to knowingly evade service of process. For example, in New York, it is a misdemeanor to knowingly avoid being served with legal papers.

All the same, you should always accept the service of process to avoid any legal trouble.

What Are the Penalties for Avoiding Service of Process?

The penalty for avoiding service of process will depend on the state you are in and the type of case you are being sued for.

In general, if you are held in contempt of court for avoiding service, you can be fined and/or jailed. The amount of the fine will depend on the severity of your offense and whether you have been held in contempt before.

If you are being sued for a criminal case, the penalty for avoiding service can be even more severe. You may be charged with a separate crime, such as “failure to appear”. This is a serious offense that can result in jail time.

Ways to Serve Someone Who Is Evading Service of Process

If you cannot find the person you are trying to serve, it is good to know that there are several ways to deliver process if they won’t answer the door for a summons and complaint.

Hire a Professional Process Server

The best way how to serve someone who is avoiding service for a summon or subpoena is, of course, to hire a professional process server. This individual is someone who is trained and experienced in serving legal documents. They know how to find people who are avoiding summons and subpoenas and serve the papers in a proper and legal manner.

A good process server will also have a network of other professionals who can help locate the person you are trying to serve. These include private investigators, skip tracers and law enforcement officers.

Process servers typically charge by the hour, with an average rate of $50 to more than $100 per hour. In some cases, they may also charge a flat fee for their services.

You can find a reputable process server in your area by searching online or asking for recommendations from your local court or bar association.

Use a Substitute Service

If the recipient is avoiding process server documents, you can ask the court for permission to do a “substitute service”.

With a substitute service, you can leave the summons and complaint with someone else who lives at the same address as the defendant. This person must be over 18 years old and cannot be a party to the lawsuit.

You will also have to file an affidavit of service with the court which includes the name and address of the person you served; the date and time of service; the method you served the papers (e.g., by hand, certified mail, etc.); and a description of what documents were served.

If you are granted permission to do a substitute service, you will have to pay a small fee to the court.

You can find the forms and instructions for how to do a substitute service in your state’s rules of civil procedure.

Serve by Publication

Apart from using a process server and a substitute service, you can ask the court for permission to do a “service by publication”.

With this method, you can post a notice of the lawsuit in a newspaper that is circulated in the area where the defendant lives. The notice will include the name of the court, case number, and dates of publication. It will also state that anyone who wants to object to the lawsuit must file a written objection with the court within a certain time period (usually 30 days).

Use a Person-Search Service

Also known as a “skip tracing” service, a person-search service will help you find someone’s current address, phone number, and email address. They will also provide you with other useful information about the person, such as their date of birth, social media profiles, and criminal records (if any).

Leave the Summons with a Responsible Person at Their Workplace

If you know where the person works, you can try to serve them at their workplace. You will need to find a responsible person at the workplace (e.g., a manager, supervisor, or human resources representative) and leave the summons with them.

Like the other methods, you will also have to file an affidavit of service with the court which includes the name and address of the person you served, the date and time of service, how you served the papers (e.g., by hand, certified mail, etc.), and a description of what documents were served.

These are some ways on how do you serve someone who won’t answer the door for a summons and complaint. However, you should remember that it is always best to hire a professional process server to do this for you. Not only will they have the experience and expertise to get the job done, but they will also be familiar with the rules and regulations in your state.


Serving a process to someone who cannot find can be a hindrance to your case. With the information provided in this article, you should now know the answer to the question “How do you serve someone who won’t answer the door?” for a summons and complaint.

If you have more questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below. And, for more tips related to law and litigation, feel free to check the other posts on our blog.

Thanks for reading!

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