Serving the Claim and Order

After filing the claim, you must notify the person, people, or business you're suing by formally delivering copies of the papers you filed in court. This lets them know that a case was filed, what it is about, and what they can do to respond. This is called serving papers.

The primary way this is done is called personal service. This means another adult, not you, hands them a copy of the filed papers. This person is your server. Your server must sign a form saying they served the papers. You file this form with the court.

What you need: 

  • Copies of any forms you filed with the court (except any fee waiver forms)

  • Proof of Service (Small Claims) (form SC-104

How to personally serve papers

  • Figure out who to serve

    • Person

      If you're suing a person (or people)—not a business or government—serve each person you are suing.

    • Business or Government

      If you're suing a business or government, there is a specific person you must serve, not just any employee.  Follow these guidelines to make sure you are serving the right person. 

    • Out-of-State Driver

      If you're suing for a car accident, and the owner or driver of the other car lives out of state, you must also serve the Director of the Department of Motor Vehicles.

  • Choose a Server

    You can't serve papers yourself. Ask another adult to deliver the papers. This is your server.

    Your server must be: 

    • 18 or over 

    • Not part of your case 

    Your server can be someone you know or you can hire a professional process server. In some counties, the Sheriff will serve court papers, usually for a fee. 

  • Figure out the deadline to serve

    Your server must deliver the papers at least 15 days before your court date, or 20 days if the person, business, or entity you're serving is outside the county. 

  • Have your server deliver the papers

    Your server must find the person and hand the papers to them by the deadline. 

    Your server should note the address where they gave them the papers, along with the date and time. They need this information to fill out the Proof of Service form. 

    When your server delivers the papers, if the person is not at home or work, your server can give the papers to another adult who is thereYour server then mails a copy of the papers. This is called “substituted service.” There is a different deadline for this type of service and a few more rules.  Learn how to do substituted service.

  • Fill out the Proof of Service form

    You can use Proof of Service (form SC-104). Your server must sign the form.

    It helps if you fill in the top part of the form with the case and court information.

    Your server can then fill in the information about how, when, and where they served the papers. Your server must then sign the form.

  • Copy and file Proof of Service

    1. Make a copy of your Proof of Service form. 

    2. File the Proof of Service at least 5-days before your hearing. The court will stamp and return the copies.

    3. Keep a copy of the Proof of Service forms for your records.   

How to get help with serving papers

Your court's Small Claims Advisor or Court Self-Help Center may be able to help you figure out if other types of service are possible in your small claims case.


Personally serving first papers

Type of case