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What does it Means to ‘Be Served’?

“You’ve been served” most of us have often heard the lawyer or process server saying this to a person while handing them a piece of legal documents. But what does it exactly mean? What does it mean to “be served”?

Being served usually means that you’ve been served notice of some legal proceedings against you. It is when someone hands you a piece of paper notifying you that you are being sued for something and may need to respond by filing paperwork with a court of law to defend yourself.

The purpose of serving legal papers on you is so that you receive actual notice of your day in court to face any charges brought against you by the opposing side. This gives you time to prepare an adequate defense to protect yourself from an unfair trial.

Being served is a significant rite-of-passage for anyone who has just received their first official notice of a lawsuit. Many people wonder if they can avoid getting served, but doing so isn’t much benefit. The best thing to do is to get out of receiving service as quickly as possible. And the quickest way to do this? To hire a lawyer. A well-qualified attorney will be able to represent you and advise you on how best to handle the situation. The judge presiding over your case will know that they have been adequately notified about your presence.

Nothing is more stressful than being served, especially for people with no idea what to do next. Therefore, we have compiled information regarding what to do if someone sues you. Or why you can be served with legal papers and whom to contact after you are sued.

to be served

What Happens When You’ve Been “Served”?

The process is known as litigation when someone serves you with a legal notice. Litigation has several phases or stages that take place in a series and requires the involvement of the person being served and the person who has served along with their lawyers and associates.

Here’s each stage of the litigation or the proper service process:

Investigatory Stage

The investigatory stage occurs at the end of the person filing a lawsuit; since it’s an essential part of the entire phase, we’ve also covered this. The lawyer investigates the case on the provided facts to determine if it fulfills all grounds to file a lawsuit against someone.

Discovery Stage

After you have received a legal notice, the case enters the discovery stage. This phase includes the process of both parties gathering all required information they’d need to proceed with the lawsuit in court.

The process commences with you or the defendant responding to the legal notice with an answer to which you can agree or deny allegations listed in the complaint.

You or the defendant can send a plethora of formal requests to the plaintiff asking for specific information, including the detailed explanation of facts listed in the complaints, the list of laws you have violated, or what the plaintiff side thinks is violated by you or someone related to you.

The plaintiff then responds to these demands and sends a list of their requests which may or may not include a detailed explanation of defenses or denials, any records relevant to the case, and the list of expert witnesses the defendant wants to call to participate in the case.

After both parties have exchanged information, then the “deposition” begins. The deposition lets you or the plaintiff side the right to raise questions to the concerned parties or the witnesses outside the court to gather more information.

Once all the concerned parties and the witnesses have deposed, a round of settlement takes place based on all prior discussions. If you or the plaintiff can settle, the case ends there only. However, if a settlement cannot be met, a “note of issue” is filed, informing the respected court that this case is ready for trial.

Pre-Stage Trial

After a “Note of Issue” has been filed, the case enters the pre-trial phase. In this stage, your lawyer will start preparing for the trial, and both sides (the defendant and the plaintiff) will begin collecting the copies of records they’ll need to prove their statements to the honorable court.

The pre-stage trial is also considered the final attempt to close the case, and you can settle with the plaintiff’s side to end things here only.

Trial Stage

If, for some reason, the plaintiff does not agree to settle the case, or you don’t want that, the case enters the trial stage. The lawyers of both parties appear in the court in front of the judges for a discussion or argument to settle the case.

Although, in some instances, the case may settle during the trial phase. After all the arguments, a list of questions regarding the case is presented among the jury or the judges to which they announce the final decision or answer.

Appeal Stage

If you or the plaintiff’s side are unhappy with the decision or result of the trial, they can reach the higher court, and the case enters the appeal stage. The process starts again from the “pre-trial stage” and ends at the trial stage.

You or the plaintiff can again challenge the court’s decision in the Supreme Court with the help of attorneys.

Reasons Why You May Be Served

Generally, when a person is served with court papers or notices, they are informed that action is taken against them. This means that your name was added to the suit because you were accused of breaking some law or regulations which affected a third party. This procedure guarantees that no one will suffer a loss due to their fault. It assures full justice.

There are ample reasons someone can sue you, or you may be served. The most common reasons people get served with a legal notice include:


Nearly 750,000 marriages end in divorce in the United States every year, and getting served with a divorce notice has become normal. If, for any reason, your spouse decides to part ways, they may serve you with a legal notice.

The legal notice helps both spouses settle the end of their marriage, fulfilling all legal grounds, including the compensation and the custody of children.

Monetary Compensation

One can litigate against an individual or an entity who has committed any negligent action through which they have suffered an injury or a financial loss, including damages to the property.

The plaintiff can claim to cover the hospital bills and the loss of wages incurred due to their absence during the recovery period. For example, if someone falls sick after eating at a restaurant or food chain, they can serve them a legal notice asking for compensation.

Child Custody

Another common reason why people get served with legal notice in the U.S is child custody. One parent can sue the other parent claiming child custody or support.

During these proceedings, both parents must present evidence that convinces the court to grant full custody to the one requesting it.

Child Support

When a married couple gets divorced, one spouse may ask the other to pay child support. When this happens, one legal notice is usually sent to the non-custodial parent, informing them about the request.

Usually, the custodial parent takes care of the child’s medical needs, education, food, clothing, etc., so it’s essential to notify the non-custodial parent of the child’s expenses. Additionally, the custodial parent files a petition to collect child support payments on behalf of the child.

Harassment and Discrimination

Harassment and discrimination based because the honorable court considers a crime can also let one person “be served.” A person discriminated against or harassed can litigate against the entity or individual responsibility in a court of law.

Breach of Contract

Two parties can sue each other if any of them breaches the contract. This commonly happens among businesses and firms that run in a partnership. One partner can “be served” if they do anything that the agreement does not allow them to do.

Encroachment of Property

You can prosecute or “be served” if someone infringes on your property or you do so to someone else’s property. The court of law lets you or the plaintiff file a case against the person that has encroached on their property without permission.

And there are several reasons you may “be served,” or you may litigate against someone else.

If you think that any of these issues might apply to you, please go ahead and talk to one of our lawyers at our practice because we can help you learn more about what steps to take in getting yourself “served” or what possible outcomes will come out of litigating against another person. Call us today at (866) 392-2182, and we’ll help you. 

How Do You Know If You Have Been Served?

You can only “be served” or sued if you receive a personal service of process from the respective authority, including the sheriff or the process servers. The process server needs to physically hand the summons to you or someone in your household or associated with you, such as your secretary or business reception.

If you receive serve papers via certified mail with a return receipt requested from the post office or by registered mail, you have been personally served, too.

Anyone living with you or are in a relationship with you, such as your wife or parents, can receive the summons on your behalf.

After you accept service, you’ll receive several documents in the packet, including the complaint and summons. Everything regarding the case, the plaintiff, and why you have been served will be mentioned in the warrant.

It’d be great to get in touch with the court clerks to know more about the case you have been served for. If you have received a summon for a dispute caused due to small claims, you can contact the small claims court clerk for more information.

Can You Ignore the Lawsuit? What Happens if You Do?

“If you avoid being served or avoid the lawsuit, you’ll risk forfeiting your rights.” 

Not acting upon the lawsuit or avoiding service is the worst thing anyone can do. When you receive the summons, the court gives you a certain amount of time, known as the “serve time,” to respond. After the time limit expires, the plaintiff can move for a “default judgment.” 

If you do not respond to the lawsuit, the court has the right to enter a detailed judgment against you or the defendant’s side. It means you can lose the case to the opposite party, and they’ll get the right to collect money, receive child custody, or do what the court has advised them to do in the court order.

Steps to Handle the Complaint, When You Have Been “Served”

If you are sued in a civil case, you need to respond with an answer, and if you don’t, a default judgment will be ruled out against you in the case, which may include legal action. While each lawsuit differs, the process of handling a complaint is generally the same:

Know the Details

The first step of handling a complaint involves knowing every detail. Go through the complaint and the summons and pay close attention to the deadlines highlighted in the legal papers. If you cannot understand the legal terminologies and why you have been served, you can ask a lawyer to help you.

Evaluate the Options

After understanding the facts, you can sit with your lawyer to evaluate the possible options. You can:

  • Negotiate with the plaintiff
  • File a motion to dismiss the case
  • File a counterclaim against the plaintiff

For example, if someone has sued you for a debt that you cannot afford to pay, you can contact the plaintiff and settle it outside the court. The second option you can opt for is requesting the court to dismiss the case if the plaintiff has not followed all rules when filing a lawsuit.

Finally, if you have claims against the plaintiff, you can file a counterclaim with the help of your legal advisors.

File a Response with the Court

Next, you need to file a response to answer the complaint before the deadline ends. Each complaint has a unique set of allegations and facts. Read all the claims and facts before preparing an answer to the complaint.

You can seek help from the lawyer at Levine & Blit as they possess expertise in filing a response. Lastly, you should deliver a copy of the response to the plaintiff or their attorneys.

You’ve Been Served; what to do next?

After you have received the summons or the complaint, the first thing you need to do is contact a reliable lawyer. It’d be great to get a lawyer specializing in the matter you have received the summons for. For example, if your ex-spouse has sued you for child custody, you should contact lawyers specializing in child custody and related matters.

Litigation is a stressful and lengthy process, and we at Levine & Blit assist you throughout the process. Our wide range of expertise in employment, labor law, wage, hour dispute, and disability gives us an upper hand.

Moreover, our legal team is highly-trusted; our experience, knowledge, and reputation have helped us maintain a winning track record for years.

Based in New York City, we offer services nationwide while providing prompt service and a friendly approach to ensure maximum client satisfaction. Get a “free case evaluation” today, and let us help you when you need a reliable lawyer by your side.

Contact Levine & Blit, PLLC

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