Serve your Defendant's Claim

After you file your Defendant's Claim, you must tell the other side you are suing them back by having someone deliver a copy of the Claim to them. This is called service

Before you start

You can't serve the forms yourself. Someone 18 or older, not you or anyone in your case, hands a filed copy of the Claim to the other side.

The person who delivers the Claim is your server. Your server must fill out a form and give it to you to file with the court to prove they delivered the Claim

How to serve the Claim in person

  • Figure out who to serve

    • A person

       If you're suing a person (or people)—not a business or government—serve each person you are suing. They have to be served in California.

    • A business or government

      If you're suing a business or government, there is a specific person you must serve, not just any employee. Find out who in How to Serve a Business or Public Entity (form SC-104C). They have to be served in California.

    • Your landlord

      If you're suing your landlord you can serve them in California or out of state if they live there.

    • An out-of-state driver

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

  • Choose a server

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

    Your server must be:

    • 18 or older
    • Not part of your case

    Your server can be: 

    • Someone you know or a family member

    • The county sheriff (in some counties) 

      • The sheriff charges to serve papers unless you have a fee waiver

    • A professional process server you pay for 

    • Someone you don't know who agrees to deliver the Claim and follow all the service laws

  • Figure out the deadline to serve

    Your server must deliver the Defendant's Claim at least 5 days before your court date if you were served with the Plaintiff's Claim more than 10 days before your court date. 

    Or, your server must deliver the Defendant's Claim at least 1 day before your court date if you were served the Plaintiff's Claim 10 days or less before the court date.  

    Look at a calendar.

    • Find the court date the court clerk put on Page 1 of your Claim form. Start counting from that day back.
    • The day before the court date is day 1. The next day before it is day 2, etc.
    • Keep counting back until you get to 5 days (or 1 day if you were served late).
    • Check what day this is:  

      • If it’s Monday through Friday and not a court holiday or closure, you must have the forms delivered by the end of that day. 

      • If it’s a Saturday or Sunday, court holiday or closure, count back to a day that court will be open. You must have the forms delivered by the end of that day. 

    • It's best to serve as early as you can. If you can't find the person you need to serve and have to try substitute service you have to do it 5 days before this deadline. You don't want to lose that option by waiting too long to serve.

      Talk to the court clerk or the Small Claims Advisor. Each local court has its own rules.


      You may have to ask the court to move your court date out by filing a Request to Postpone Trial (Small Claims) (form SC-150) 10 or more days before the court date. Then make a copy for everyone in your case and have a copy of this form served in person or by mail on all of them. More information on changing your court date.


    • Have your server deliver the Claim

      Illustration of giving papers to a server who then gives them to the other party

      Your server must find the person they need to serve and hand the Claim to them before your deadline. As they hand the forms to the other side they need to:

      • Tell the person what the forms are about (something like “a small claims lawsuit”)
      • Write down the address where they handed the person the forms
      •  Write down the date and time they gave the other side the forms

      The server needs to keep track of this information to fill it in on the Proof of Service form in the next step.

      If the person you need to serve isn’t at home or work when your server comes to serve them, but there's someone 18 or older who is, your server may be able to do substituted service. Learn about substituted service.
    • Have the server fill out the Proof of Service form

      You can use Proof of Service (form SC-104).

      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 sign the Proof of Service form.

      The server should then give you the Proof of Service form back to you.

    • Copy and file Proof of Service

      members fo the public waiting in line to talk to the clerk

      Make one copy of your filled out Proof of Service form.

      • File the original and copy before your court hearing.
      • The court will keep the original.
      • The court will stamp and return the copy to you.
      • Keep the copy for your records.

    Small Claims

    What's next?

    After you serve your Claim, you need to start to get ready for your court date (trial).

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