Alternative Service of Process: What is it?

Every now and then, process servers experience circumstances in which they cannot serve a defendant in a pending lawsuit. Although non-service can occur, most plaintiffs prefer actual and perfected in-person service. Thankfully, in cases in which a defendant must be served by any means possible, there are alternative services of process available that can be requested and approved by the court.


Alternative Service Explained

It is important not to confuse alternative service with substitute service, as these are two different methods of service. Alternative service happens when a defendant is served by a method that is different from the traditional way of personal service. Substitute service, on the other hand, happens when someone other than the named defendant accepts service on their behalf. In other words, when it comes to alternative service the named defendant is served just by a non-traditional method.


Service of process is a critical piece of the legal system as its goal is to afford defendants in a lawsuit their rights to due process. If a party that is being sued, or has to appear in court, that party has a right to be notified of the legal action. Only when all attempts have been exhausted, alternative service may be used. There are many different ways in which alternative service can be handled including:


  • Physically posting a copy at the door of the defendant’s last known address;
  • Electronically posting a copy to the court’s website;
  • Publishing a notice of the lawsuit in a newspaper;
  • First class and/or certified mail;
  • Serving the defendant’s social media account;
  • Serving the defendant’s’ email address; or
  • Digitally service of process with ServeManager.


Each state has its own approved means of alternative service of process. For this reason, it is important to always check the state’s statutes regarding what is acceptable alternative service. In most states across the nation, all methods of alternative service must first be requested and approved by the court before being used.


Getting Alternative Service Approved


Because alternative service is only permitted as a last resort after numerous attempts at personally serving  party to a lawsuit have failed. There is a particular procedure that must be followed to request and obtain court approval for alternative service. This includes diligent inquiry, which requires a server to provide proof of a diligent effort to find the party being served prior to requesting alternative service. The next steps that may be included as part of a “diligent inquiry”:


  • Confirm military status: conducting a diligent search to determine if the party is on active duty;
  • Confirm jailed status: determine whether or not the party is incarcerated;
  • Confirm in patient/hospital status: check hospitals to determine if the party is an inpatient at a hospital;
  • Request alternative service: if the party cannot be located after the mandatory diligent attempts are made, the plaintiff must request alternative service from the court by way of a motion.


If you would like to schedule a service, contact us today!