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Dealing with difficult or evasive defendants

scared woman raising hands up in defense

A process server is a person or company who makes sure that legal documents, like subpoenas, summonses, complaints, and other court papers, are delivered to the people they are meant for. This process is an essential aspect of the legal system, as it ensures that citizens are aware of any legal actions taken against them and are given the opportunity to participate in the court process.

However, individuals who are aware that legal documents are being served to them may attempt to avoid accepting them from the process server. There are a number of reasons for doing it, such as:

  • Not being aware of the lawsuit against them

  • Believing the lawsuit is ridiculous

  • Or trying to avoid confrontation.

Additionally, some defendants may try to evade service to delay the legal process or to make things more difficult for the person who has filed a case against them. When a respondent is hard to find, it can cause unnecessary stress and delay legal proceedings.

It is critical to understand the lawful way to approach this situation and deliver legal papers as quickly as possible. This is where process servers can be engaged to find an elusive defendant and lawfully deliver the documents, but if the process server is unable to track down the offender, or if they are intentionally hiding, it’s important to understand the legal process for serving papers.

What happens when Defendants evade service

When someone tries to avoid process service, they are not able to avoid the legal proceedings that have been initiated against them. The courts will not dismiss the case simply because somebody doesn’t want to be sued. If a process server can prove they have made reasonable efforts to serve process but have been unable to do so, a judge can enforce additional options. The citizen’s right to due process means that they must be informed of any legal proceedings that involve them and be served a copy of the complaint notifying them that there is a lawsuit pending before they can be taken to court. If personal service cannot be completed, there are usually other ways for a person to be served.

Service of Process by Mail


An alternative method of delivering legal documents is through mail service. In California, a process server can send the court papers and complaint via certified mail to the last known or forwarding address of the defendant. This method of service still requires a person over the age of 18 who is competent to sign for the papers upon delivery. This can be a useful option when the defendant is avoiding personal service.

Hands insert the paper into brown envelope

Strategies for Finding and Serving Evasive Defendants

Utilizing basic information and traditional methods

Process servers will start with the basics when trying to locate an evasive individual. They will use the information provided by the client, such as the recipient’s name and known aliases, work and home address, all available phone numbers, and basic identifying information such as a recent photo, physical description, and make and model of their vehicle if relevant. They will also attempt to serve the individual at defendant’s home or place of work, and if that doesn’t work, they might return at another time of day or even wait for the person to return home from work. They will also complete service at a workplace, and they’re allowed to leave papers with the manager or boss if they cannot reach the individual personally.

Alternative methods of process service

When traditional methods of service don’t work, process servers may use public records to see if an individual has changed addresses. They may even look up the addresses of friends and family members in case the individual is staying with someone else in order to avoid being served. Similarly, searching court records allows a process server to find out if the person has any upcoming court dates, in which case they can serve them as they leave a hearing or other court proceeding. They can also identify the person’s lawyer and serve them as they leave their attorney’s office.

Service of Process by Mail

When someone is trying to avoid being personally served with legal papers, another option is to send the documents through the mail. A process server can mail the documents to the last known or forwarding address of the person who needs to be served. This method still requires someone over the age of 18 who is capable to sign for the papers when they are delivered. This can be a good option when the person you’re trying to serve is hard to find.

Substitute Service of Process

When a person is trying to avoid being served in person, there’s another option called “substitute service”. This means that if the process server can’t find the person they’re trying to serve, they can leave the legal papers with someone else at their home, work, or the usual place of mailing. This person has to be 18 or older. Even if the person is trying to avoid being served, if the process server knows where they live or work, they can still serve the papers through substitute service. This means that eventually, the person will be served, even if they’re trying to avoid it.

Drop Service

drop service

Sometimes, when someone is trying to avoid being served or is confrontational, your process server may use a method called “drop service”. This means leaving the legal papers on the ground in front of the person or placing them under their car’s windshield wiper while they’re in the vehicle. However, it’s important to note that drop service is not allowed in all states and in California, there are specific rules that must be followed. For example, the process server must identify the person being served and confirm that the address is their usual place of home, work, or mail and that the person they’re leaving the documents with is 18 or older and lives or works there with the subject. They must also be within easy speaking distance, tell the person that they have legal papers for them or the subject, leave the documents in an easily found place, usually at their feet, and leave the premises, and must under no conditions take the papers back.

Service of Process by Publication

Another way to serve someone legal papers is through “service by publication”. This means that the court has to give permission for this method and a notice about the lawsuit against the person is printed in a newspaper or other publications. This is done for a certain period of time. This is another option that process servers can use when someone is trying to avoid being served.

Service by Special Court Order

When all methods have been tested and the evasive party is still avoiding being served, the court may allow you to serve them in a different way. This is called a “special court order” and you have to ask the judge for permission. For example, if you have a document that is usually only supposed to be served in person, the judge may allow you to serve it through the mail or by posting it in a public place. If you can show the judge that you’ve done everything you can to try to serve the person the usual way and that the new way you’re proposing is likely to give them actual notice, the judge may allow you to proceed with your case.

Thinking outside the box


When the usual steps are not enough to complete process service, process servers get especially creative. They may use information posted on social media to find someone at a concert or other public event or even wait at the airport for someone to return from the vacation they posted about on Facebook or Instagram. They may also use other creative methods like surveillance, or even hiring a private investigator to help locating people, in this case, the evasive party.

Lawyer showing client to proof read a statement

How Process Servers Can Help

When an individual refuses service, it creates undue pressure and delays. You may be unable to focus on your work or lose sleep trying to figure out how to deliver service so you can progress through the courts and move on with your life as quickly as possible. Under these circumstances, it’s usually easier to hand matters over to the experts. Professional process servers are familiar with the procedures involved in the serving process, as well as the laws surrounding what you can and can’t do when you’re serving legal papers. They can also retrieve legal documents from the courts on your behalf. Examples of professional process servers in California include D&R Legal, with over 37 years of experience in the field, they know all of the particulars of the California legal system and will take the hassle away from having to serve the papers yourself. If you need help serving papers to an avoidant defendant, get in touch with a professional process server today.


In conclusion, it is important to understand the lawful way to approach the situation of serving legal papers to evasive defendants. The process of service is a critical aspect of the legal system that ensures that citizens are informed of any legal proceedings involving them and that their right to due process is protected. Avoiding service does not make the case against the defendant disappear, it could even have negative consequences, such as court orders and decisions being made without their knowledge, and it always results in longer and more expensive litigations. The additional fees and expenses caused by avoiding service, such as multiple service charges for process server attempts, can be charged to the person that avoids being served. It is important to seek professional assistance from process servers who are familiar with the procedures involved in the serving process, as well as the laws surrounding what you can and can’t do when you’re serving legal papers. They can help navigate the legal system, handle the stress and uncertainty of serving evasive defendants, and help ensure that the service is completed in a timely and efficient manner.

Jillian Gregory <i style="font-size:13px;color: white; background-color: #0277B6;padding:4px 5px;border-radius:4px;position: relative;bottom:3px;" class="fa elementor-icon fa-linkedin"></i>
Jillian Gregory

As a seasoned process server and legal expert with vast knowledge in the domain of process serving within the United States, I write my blog to serves as a platform to offer insightful and pragmatic guidance on the legal process and the crucial role process servers play in facilitating it. Whether it's serving legal papers or navigating complex court procedures, my aim is to provide my readers with comprehensive and informative guidance on all aspects of process serving within the USA.

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