When you start a court case, or are already involved in a court case, you are generally required to give the other party (the other side) to the case copies of any papers you are filing with the court. This is called “service of process.” 
There are service of process rules about who can “serve” the copies and about how the copies are served to the other party. There are also service of process timelines and deadlines that you must follow.
The laws and rules about service are complicated and depend on what kind of court case you have and what action you are taking in the case.
Court staff cannot serve papers for you or apply the rules and laws of service to your individual case. If you have questions about service that are not answered here, you should talk to a lawyer.

Getting Ready to Serve

The other party gets notice and time to respond.

When you start a case or file papers in a case, the other party(ies) in the case needs to know what you are telling the court and what you are asking for from the court so they can respond.

Ex parte communication is generally against the rules.

Ex parte communication is communication between one party and the judge without the other party(ies) knowing about it. It is generally against the rules for a party to communicate with the judge about the case without the other party(ies).

If you do not follow service rules:
  • Your case could be delayed;
  • You could lose your case;
  • Your case could be dismissed;
  • The judge could decide not to look at your forms if the other party doesn’t receive a copy; or
  • The judge may decide not to make any permanent orders or judgments until the other party is served.
It is your responsibility to locate the other party and arrange for service.  
The court cannot locate the other party for you. 

The How to Find Someone Help Topic has helpful tips about how to find the other party.

Generally, you would serve the other party(ies) with copies of all the papers you file with the court.

Many of the forms that are published by the MN Judicial Branch have instructions that include a section about what you need to serve.
If you are not sure what you need to serve, you should talk to a lawyer.

Court staff cannot tell you specifically who to serve.  
Service rules and laws can be complicated. If you are not sure who you need to serve, you should talk to a lawyer.

In general:
  • You must serve all of the other parties in the case. Even if you are bringing a motion that only involves one party, if multiple parties are part of the case you need to serve a copy on each of them.
  • If the other party is represented by an attorney, then the attorney would generally be served rather than the party.
  • If the other party is a business, who should be served depends on the type of business.
  • If the business is a sole proprietorship or single-owner business, you would generally serve the owner.
  • If the business is a partnership, you would generally serve each partner.
  • If the business is a limited partnership or corporation and they have a registered agent, you would generally serve the agent. To check whether there is a registered agent you can visit the MN Secretary of State website.  

Doing Service

Who can do service depends on whether you are starting a new case or filing something in a case that has already been started.
If you are starting a new case
  • Generally the other party in your case must be served by third party personal service.
  • The person who serves these papers CANNOT be you, but they could be:
    • Another adult (who is NOT part of the case); or
    • The sheriff.
  • NOTE:  There are some exceptions to this rule (for example, conciliation court cases). Please carefully read the instructions for the forms you are serving. If you are not sure who should do service talk to a lawyer.
If a case is already started and you are serving a motion, responsive motion, or answer:
  • Generally the other party in your case can be served with motion or answer papers by:
    • Regular first-class U.S. mail; or
    • Personal service.
  • The person who serves these papers could be:
    • Another adult;
    • The sheriff; or
    • You.
There are several different ways to serve papers. The information provided here is general information about the most common types of service for the most common situations.
The most common ways to serve are by:
  • Personal Service (hand-delivery);
  • Mail Service (by regular first-class U.S. Mail); and
  • Certified Mail.
The type of service required depends on the type of case, the type of form(s) being served, and the status of the case. Not all types of service are allowed in all cases, or at all stages of a case.
Service can be complicated and is VERY important. If it is not done correctly, you may not be able to move forward with your case. If you are not sure how you must serve your paperwork talk to a lawyer.
Personal Service means hand-delivering the papers to the other party in the case. Personal service is usually the way service must be done when you are starting a new case but it can also be done if a case has already been started.
Who can do service by personal service depends on whether you are starting a new case or filing something in a case that has already been started.
The person being served does not have to sign anything. Personal service can also be done by leaving the papers at the other party’s usual place of residence with a person of suitable age and discretion who also lives at the residence.
AFTER service is done, the person who personally served the forms must fill out an Affidavit of Personal Service that tells the court when, where, and how the papers were served. The server signs the Affidavit of Personal Service and returns it to you to file with the court.
If you do not have someone that can do service for you, you can ask the county sheriff or a professional process server to do the service for you. They may charge a fee. 
There is a way for you to ask the other party to waive personal service of a summons. The other party can accept service from you so you can avoid the cost of hiring someone to do the service for you. This process is called Waiver of Service of Summons.

In certain types of cases where personal service is required, it may be possible to get a court order giving you permission to serve the other party in a different way if personal service cannot be completed. Generally, you will have to prove to the court you have made every effort to locate other party to serve them personally.  If you cannot find someone that you need to serve, visit the How to Find Someone Help Topic for some helpful suggestions.
Some examples of Service by Other Means include:

Service by Mail Pursuant to a Court Order 

A judge may allow you to do service by mail by mailing the papers to the other party’s last known address and/or by mailing the papers to another address (like a relative’s address).

Service by Publication Pursuant to a Court Order

A judge may allow you to do service by publishing in a legal newspaper. In most situations, you will be responsible for the costs of publication.  Generally, service by publication is completed after publishing the summons or notice in a legal newspaper for a certain period of time. The time period is set out in the law.  If you do not know how long you need to publish your documents, you should consider getting legal advice.

Service by Mail means you, or someone else, can mail the papers to the other party by regular first-class U.S. Mail. Service by mail is almost never acceptable when starting a new court case.  However, papers filed after a case is started, such as answers, motions, and responsive motions, are often served by mail.
NOTE: When serving by mail, 3 days are typically added to the deadline for service.  For example, if the rule says you need to serve your paperwork 14 days before a hearing and you will be doing service by mail, your paperwork must be mailed no later than 17 days before the hearing.

A person who is not represented by an attorney may choose to electronically file and serve case documents through eFile & eService (eFS), the court’s e-filing and e-service system.
Generally, once you choose to use eFS, court rules require you to continue to file and serve all documents electronically for that entire case.  See Rule 14 of the Minnesota General Rules of Practice.

NOTE: If the other party in your case is not registered for e-service, you must arrange to have them served in another way that is allowed in your type of case. You must then electronically file the Affidavit of Service after service is completed.
For more information about eFS, visit the court’s File a Case help topic.
A summons is often the form that is used to start a court case. For most types of cases, a summons needs to be served on the other party by someone other than yourself, who is not a party to the case, and who is at least 18 years old. (See Personal Service).
If the other party agrees to waive personal service, you can avoid the cost of hiring someone to do the service for you. To ask the other party to waive personal service of a summons, you must send the other party the following items by first-class mail: The court may order the other party to reimburse you for your reasonable expenses related to service if:
  • The other party does not return the signed waiver within 30 days (or 60 days if the defendant is outside the United States); and
  • The other party does not have a good reason for not returning the signed waiver.
  • For more information about Waiver of Service and Summons, you can read Rule 4.05 of the MN Rules of Civil Procedure.


After Service

The most common way to show the court service was done is by filing an Affidavit of Service, which is also sometimes called a Proof of Service.

The Affidavit of Service or Proof of Service form:
  • Should be filled out by the person who did the service;
  • Should be filled out AFTER the service is completed;
  • Can be filed with the court by you or the person who did the service; and
  • Often has a deadline by when the form needs to be filed with the court.
The Affidavit of Service or Proof of Service form tells the court:
  • How service was done (personal service, mail service, etc.);
  • Who was served;
  • Where the other party was served; and
  • When the other party was served.
In some situations a different kind of form may be filed, such as an Affidavit of Publication, a Waiver of Service of Summons, or a Certificate of Service.
If you are served with legal papers, it is very important to read the papers carefully to see if they say what your deadline is for responding to them. If there is no deadline listed in the papers, or if you have questions about the papers, you should talk to a lawyer right away.  
NOTEWhen papers are first served, often there will not be a court stamp or case number (also called a court file number) on the papers.  Under MN law, a lawsuit is started by service, not by filing paperwork with the court.  If there is not a case number or stamp on the papers, it does not necessarily mean you were served with a “fake” document.
The Minnesota Judicial Branch publishes many different forms for service of process for different kinds of paperwork.
To see if there is a service of process form specific to the type of paperwork you are serving, visit the Court Forms page and choose the forms you are working on from the list.

If there isn’t a service of process form specific to what you are doing, you can use one of the Service of Process forms.

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