Hopefully Only One, But That’s Probably Not What You’re Asking
Process servers have an odd job. We have to meet people who normally don’t want to meet us and will sometimes try to avoid us. Since everybody has a different schedule, finding somebody to serve them takes skill and sometimes luck. It can take many tries before we eventually make contact and deliver the papers. Not surprisingly, there are legal guidelines in place dictating how many times a server needs to attempt service.
The minimum required number of attempts varies by jurisdiction and there is often no hard and fast rule.
Even in the same state, the number of required attempts may vary depending on the county. Generally, process servers make at least three attempts to serve somebody. These attempts are normally made at different times of day and on different days to maximize our chance of serving the papers. We say “generally” because some jurisdictions prefer more than three. In some, for example, judges want to see at least five attempts in most cases.
Do Process Servers Make More than the Minimum Number of Attempts?
Good ones, like the professionals at Southeast Wisconsin Process, do more than the minimum, if there’s time. We have had servers make seven, ten, even twelve or more attempts to serve a defendant, when the situation warrants it.
Exactly how many attempts a server will make for any given paper is up to the discretion of the server and the legal deadline for service. If you give us a paper that only has three days to attempt service, it will be hard to squeeze in many more than three or four attempts.
When choosing a process server, be sure to ask if they will only do the bare minimum to establish diligence. If the answer is yes, find another server.
Many times, making an extra attempt or two above the minimum is the difference between a paper getting served or not. Professional process servers will know whether a paper has a good chance of being served with just a few more attempts. If they have been to the house several times already and there are never any changes (e.g. mail is still on the porch, nothing outside the house has been moved, no cars are ever in the driveway), the server may conclude the defendant is on vacation or otherwise not around. More attempts will not help and will only drag out the case, so the server may decide to send the paper back as a non-serve.
When Can a Server Only Make One Attempt?
Besides the obvious situation where a server delivers the papers to the defendant on the first try, there are some situations where only one attempt is ever made. This is not the result of laziness, but the circumstance of the situation. If, on the first attempt, the server sees that the home is vacant or is told by the person answering the door that the defendant does not live there, the server will stop attempting. There’s no point in knocking on an empty door or bothering somebody who has already said we have the wrong address.
If the first address we are given is no good and we are unable to find another, we have no choice but to stop attempting.
Thus, a server may make only one attempt, but you can rest assured this is because the situation dictates that further attempts would be fruitless. In a certain sense, a server wants to make as few attempts as possible: we always want to get it served on the first attempt. But with a professional process server, you can count on getting the legal requirements met and extra attempts to boot.