There are three different ways to serve a defendant with a Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court in a small claims case: (1) personal service, (2) substituted service, and (3) service by Certified Mail by the Court Clerk.
A "server" must be at least eighteen years of age and not a party to the case (i.e., you cannot serve the Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court yourself). The server can be either a friend, relative, or co-worker; or, as noted, you can hire a professional process server. The local sheriff (or marshal if your county has one) can also deliver court documents. You will have to pay the sheriff for this service unless you qualify for a fee waiver.
For personal service, ask your server to personally “serve” (give) a copy of your court papers to the defendant or to the agent legally authorized to accept court papers for the defendant. Tell the server to walk up to the defendant; say, “these are court papers”; and give the person copies of all the court papers. If the person will not take the papers, the server can leave them near the person. It does not matter if the person tears them up or throws them away. The server must then fill out the Proof of Service (Small Claims) (Form SC-104), sign Page 2, and return the form to you for you to file.
For substituted service, if the defendant is not at home or work when your server goes there, your server can give the court papers to a competent adult (at least eighteen) living at the defendant’s home; an adult who seems to be in charge where defendant usually works; or an adult who seems to be in charge where the person receives mail. The server must also tell the person he or she is leaving the court papers with to give them to the defendant and write down the name of the person he or she gave the court papers to. If the person will not give his or her name, your server must write down a physical description of the person who took the papers. You must then mail another copy of the court papers by USPS First Class mail to the defendant at the same address where your server left the papers. Fill out the Proof of Service (Small Claims) (Form SC-104) and sign Page 2. The server MUST also fill out and sign the Proof of Mailing (Substituted Service) (Form SC-104A) for the second step of mailing a copy of the Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court. Once the server fills out both forms, he or she must return the completed forms for you to file with the clerk.
For service by Certified Mail by the Court Clerk, you can pay the court clerk to mail your Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court to the defendant by USPS Certified Mail. While this can be a very convenient and inexpensive option, this type of service can also be very unreliable. The court will probably not accept it and will make you serve again (with personal or substituted service) if the defendant or the defendant’s agent does not sign the certified mail receipt with his or her complete name, if the judge cannot read the signature on the certified mail receipt and cannot tell who signed it, or if someone else signs the receipt.
After the server fills out and signs the Proof of Service, you must file it with the court at least five days before your Small Claims trial date. Further information on serving the defendant is available at