What Kind of Papers Does a Process Server Serve?

Process serving papers

A process server is integral to initiating court cases in the legal system. But what is a process server, exactly? In simplest terms, the process server must ensure the timely and lawful delivery of court documents to involved parties to notify them of their required presence in a legal proceeding.

However, the specifics of the process server’s responsibilities can vary. For example, certain jurisdictions require process servers to operate according to local laws, restricting or granting access to various alternative delivery methods.

Another layer of intricacy in the process server’s role is the variety of papers they serve. This article will explore the many legal documents process servers handle, their differences, and how different documents may be eligible for additional serving methods.

Overview of Legal Documents Served

What kind of papers does a process server serve? The legal papers that a process server may handle include summons and complaints, subpoenas, writs and orders to show cause, divorce and family law documents, and more.

When upholding the lawful “service of process,” or the physical delivery of court papers to legally obliged respondents, process servers must follow the local laws of their region.1

For this reason, process servers are experts in local service of process regulations. Process servers are also fluent in the various methods to serve different legal documents within their area. Some papers may require a hand delivery or “personal service,” while others are acceptable posted at the party’s residence.2

Summons and Complaints

A summons is a document served by an authorized individual, such as a process server, that informs a defendant of an impending lawsuit against them.3 They’re required to give the receiving party adequate time to prepare for their court appearance, specifying when and where the court hearing will occur. A court summons is sometimes used in place of an arrest warrant for minor crimes, giving the defendant a chance to answer the allegations against them in court rather than being arrested.

A complaint is a legal document drafted by the plaintiff that summarizes all of the grievances the defendant has caused them and asks for compensation or relief. These complaints must be fact-based and indicate proof that the plaintiff can provide. A complaint is served to a defendant to inform them why the plaintiff is suing them and what the plaintiff demands for reparation.


A subpoena is a type of summons delivered to a witness or vital party informing them of their required presence in a legal proceeding on a specific date and time. 

These papers might call upon a witness whose testimony is required to progress legal proceedings or someone who is required to produce evidence or facts for the case to reach an outcome. In either case, failure to respond to a subpoena is punishable by the law. Deliveries of subpoenas are just as critical as a court summons, which is why process servers are trusted to fulfill them.

Court reporting services

Writs and Orders to Show Cause

Professional process servers also regularly handle paperwork consisting of legal writs or orders to show cause. 

  • Writs – Writs are formal legal orders for an individual or organization to cease an activity immediately. For example, a writ of habeas corpus asks the individual or establishment holding a prisoner or detainee to bring that individual before the court to verify they are adequately detained within their rights.
  • Order to show cause – A court or judge may request an order to show cause (OSC) to gather more information or justification before passing or rejecting a motion. A process server delivers the OSC to the party filing the request, such as a party requesting a restraining order without adequate reason.

Writs can vary from common to extremely uncommon. For example, the writ of certiorari is called for in rare situations when a higher court, such as the U.S. Supreme Court, needs to review the record of a case performed by a lower court.

Divorce and Family Law Documents

Other types of legal paperwork, including divorce papers and family law documents, will travel via a process server. Because of the emotional, heightened stress between the two divorcing parties, a process server is sometimes better suited to deliver the necessary court documentation because they are detached from the relationship. 

Special Considerations for Different Documents

When providing any of these legal documents, a process server possesses expert training to handle each situation with the proper tactics. Different processes will require unique protocols, and the process server makes special considerations when necessary depending on the situation.

For example, for cases of serving eviction notices, it may be lawful for the process server to post the necessary legal papers at the premises of the eviction and via mail rather than being required to deliver the legal orders personally.2 With these considerations, it’s also crucial to remember the local laws around process serving because what may be lawful in one state may be unlawful in another.

Hire Expert Process Servers With U.S. Legal Support

The role of a professional process server is complex but essential to maintaining smooth and efficient legal operations. You need a process server that can expertly navigate local jurisdictional requirements and deliver documentation accurately and quickly to facilitate your cases. That’s why it’s important to know how to hire a process server the right way. 

U.S. Legal Support has a network of qualified professionals serving California, Florida, and Texas. Adhering to all local rules, regulations, and necessary licenses, U.S. Legal Support can connect you to the process servers that can best meet your time, budget, and regional constraints.

Contact a U.S. Legal Support representative today for more information about our litigation support services


  1. Mass.gov. Service of Process in the Courts. https://www.mass.gov/service-of-process-in-the-courts
  2. California Courts. Service of Court Papers. https://www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-serving.htm?rdeLocaleAttr=en
  3. Cornell Law School. summons. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/summons
  4. U.S. Marshals Service. Writ of Habeas Corpus. https://www.usmarshals.gov/what-we-do/service-of-process/criminal-process/writ-of-habeas-corpus
Julie Feller
Julie Feller
Julie Feller is the Head of Marketing at U.S. Legal Support. Prior to U.S. Legal Support, Julie worked at Abacus Data Systems (now Caret Legal) providing legal technology platforms and services to legal professionals across the country.

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Content published on the U.S. Legal Support blog is reviewed by professionals in the legal and litigation support services field to help ensure accurate information.