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Substituted Service

Substituted service is used after several attempts (after 3 attempts) to personally serve the papers have failed.


For substituted service: The server tries to personally serve the papers on the other party a number of times (usually 3 or more) but cannot find the party at home (or work, if that is the address the server has).  The server must try different days of the week and different times of the day, at times when the other person is likely to be home (or at work if serving him or her there).

If the server is unable to find the person to be served on each one of those times, he or she can, on the last attempt, leave the papers with someone at the other party’s house, at least 18 years old, who lives there.  If the server is trying to serve the papers at the other party’s work, then the papers can be left with someone at the office that appears to be in charge and is at least 18 years old.

The server must tell the person that he or she hands the papers to that they are legal documents for the other party. The server must also write down the name and address of the person he or she gave the court papers to. If the person will not give his or her name, the server must write down a detailed physical description.

Next, the server must mail a copy of the papers to the other party at the address where the papers were left.


The server must then: Write up a “Declaration of Due Diligence,” which is document for the court detailing every attempt he or she made to serve the papers in person. It should include the dates he or she went to the house or work, times of day, and what the result was (for example, “No one answered the door” or “Party not in the office”). The server has to sign this document under penalty of perjury.  There is no form for this, but the server can use a Declaration (Form MC-030). Your court’s self-help center may have a local form to help you with this step too.


Fill out a Proof of Service, detailing when, where, and how the papers were served. The server has to make sure to write the name of the person he or she left the papers with (or a detailed physical description). The server signs the Proof of Service and returns it to you, with the Declaration of Due Diligence, to file in court.


Substituted service is complete10 days after the day the papers are mailed.


NOTE: Sometimes, like in small claims cases, you can use substituted service the first time the server tries to serve the papers in person and the other party is not at home or work.

“Substituted service” is not a very reliable type of service because the court does not know for sure that the person that had to be served actually received the paperwork.


When the other side agrees to be served by mail and is willing to sign a document for the court saying that they received the papers, you can usually use this method. It is usually used for the summons and complaint/petition (in civil cases or family law cases).

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