What Is Service by Publication?

Ken Black
Ken Black
Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

Service by publication is a way to prove that legal documents have been delivered, or were attempted to be delivered, to another party in a legal proceeding. Lawyers, or parties in the case, may choose this type of service when an individual’s address is unknown, the person is in hiding, or when other more traditional attempts were unsuccessful. Often, more steps are required in order to serve someone with court papers in this manner. It is a legal way of service, provided certain conditions and steps are performed.

One of the primary things that must happen in order to perform service by publication is to submit an affidavit saying other service attempts have not succeeded, thus stating that due diligence was performed. If that is the case, the individual attempting service must provide a sworn statement to a judge. The judge can then issue an order authorizing service in a publication of general circulation. In some cases, the court may have a list of acceptable, or official, publications where service can be printed.

The information provided in service by publication is the same information that would have been provided in more traditional service. Generally, the court will require the individual seeking service to put the other party’s last known address in the information to be published. The rest of the notice will state the action being considered, and will likely include the next court date, or provide a deadline for the party to answer. Those who do not answer could be in danger of default judgment.

If the judge provides authorization, the next step is to contact a publication of general circulation, usually a newspaper. Most of these notices are handled through the publication’s advertising or legal department. The publication notice will cost money, often based on how much space it takes up in the paper. The newspaper will often send the paying party a proof of publication once the notice has run.

Once printed in the publication, the court can operate under the premise that the proper parties have been served notice. Even if the other party does not see the service by publication, it may not be grounds for appeal. The other side may have grounds for appeal, however, if it can prove a good-faith attempt was not made to provide service by other means.

In addition to service by publication, there are several other ways by which individuals can be served court papers. Service may be made via mail, private courier, or by a law enforcement officer. Opposing attorneys who have made an appearance on behalf of a client may also be able to accept papers on the client's behalf.

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