What is Substituted Service of Process?

If you’re serving process, you need to know, what is substitute service? Or sometimes you’ll hear it called substituted service.

I’m going to tell you three things today about substitute service, two of which are commonly shared. But… number 3 is a bit controversial.

What is Substituted Service?

Substituted (or substitute) service is when you’re hired as a process server to serve court papers to someone personally, but you’re also authorized to serve somebody else as their substitute.

This is common when the person who needs to be served is refusing service of process.

The Three Ways

There’s three different ways I’m going to share with you for when you can serve somebody using substituted service.

1. When the court says you can.

The papers you receive from the court appointing you as process server for the case may say specifically who you can serve in the primary persons place.

It might say right on the paperwork that you’re going to serve John Doe. But it might also say that you can serve his wife, some other member of the household, or even the receptionist at work! It may say, right there on the court order, who you can serve in a substituted matter.

2. When it’s in statute / state law.

The second place to look to see if you can serve substitute service on somebody, is in statute, in state law.

Your state law may spell out specifically that you can serve someone else who lives at that residence who’s of of legal age. Or it might say someone who lives at that house who’s of “reasonable age”. (I cover that in The Investigator’s Ultimate Guide to Process Serving.) OR state law may say you can serve the registered agent of a corporation or his/her designated representative. You’ll find that in statute.

These first two things are very clear cut. Either the court has specifically named someone else you can serve for substituted service, or it’s in statute. These are two no-brainers. You can read these and figure these out. Here’s the third one. Prepare for the controversy…

3. Your attorney-client will tell you who else you can serve.


Is that a real thing?

Can the attorney your serving papers for really have that kind of authority? To say, “Even though it’s not in state law and even though the Judge hasn’t approved it, I would be satisfied if your just able to serve so-and-so.”?!?


The attorney you’re working for will tell you if there’s someone else they would be satisfied that you served.

Now, does this legally hold up if the person says, “I wasn’t served. No one in my residence was served. Nobody else that was appointment was served.” Honestly, I don’t know, but your attorney-client knows what he or she is doing and if they are willing to roll the dice, then go ahead and serve the person (or substituted person) they name.

If the attorney you work for said, “Go ahead and give it to so and so. Or you can serve it to anybody at their home or at work”; if the attorney (that’s your client!) is satisfied with the person you served getting the papers, then you’re in good shape. You have to presume the attorney knows what she’s doing.

Your client is the one you have to satisfy. Your client, the attorney, should understand the law, procedures, and who the judge is. If the attorney (for whatever reason) thinks serving so-and-so will be good enough, then that’s good enough for me.

Look, sometimes when the court papers are given to the guy’s wife at their house, the attorney knows there’s a 99% chance the guy will show up in court. If not… the attorney has a plan and is prepared. But, it’s the attorney’s call.

So, if you have someone that you think might be a problem serving (or the attorney tells you they might be a problem), just ask them outright, “Is there anybody else that can take these papers that you’d be happy with?” That can save you a lot of heartache.

IMPORTANT: When you file the return of service, put down who you served. Tell the truth about who, when and where. Don’t try to be sneaky about this! There’s nothing underhanded going on. Ya gotta’ tell the truth on the Return of Service!

Straight Talk…

Look, this is just one of those things that you either pay to learn or an experienced process server passes along to you. So here you are. I’m passing it along to you.

This is something that’s worked great for me. Maybe it can save you a lot of heartache and time and make your job a little bit easier.

If you like this tip, if you say, “Wow, that makes a lot of sense. That’s something I really hadn’t thought of on my own”, then consider checking out The Investigator’s Ultimate Guide to Process Serving. That’s my course. I just empty the bucket of knowledge. I tell you everything I know from A to Z, soup to nuts, on process serving based on my experience and knowledge. It’s not some pie in the sky theoretical thing. The things that I teach there, I’ve done. I am living proof that they work.

Of course, if you have any specific question about these types of things, talk to your client-attorney, or ask your personal attorney. I’m not an attorney. I’m not giving legal advice, I’m just telling you what’s worked out in the real world and what might make your life easier and satisfy your client.

Here we go…

I don’t know, maybe the comments on this will blow-up. Or maybe process servers will say, “Yeah, this is exactly what we do in the real world”. But knowing this one simple thing will save you a lot of time and aggravation as a process server.

In the meantime, remember: Do the right thing, even if it’s the hard thing!

Committed to your success,
Larry Kaye, P.I.


If you like this helpful tip, then don’t miss out on my new book 51 Weird Private Investigator Tricks That Actually Work: How to Trick, Track, Find and Follow Someone Like a Pro

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