I got this question a few months back. This is a very common query and I feel it needs to be addressed.

Problem:

I have a court date without being served. Yesterday, I received a call from a law firm. They have filed a collection case against me. They asked me to be there in the court after 15 days. But the problem is I haven’t received any court papers. What happens if a summons is not served? Does a summons have to be served in person? Do I have to go to the court? What if I don’t show up?

Solution:

You have to go to the court under the following scenarios:

  1. You have been served summons
  2. You have received a copy of the petition

If court papers are not served at your residence, then there is no need to show up in the court.

Don’t start jumping with joy right now because I’m not finished yet. Read and understand what I’m going to tell you now.

Sometimes, you can get served without any knowledge about it. If the summons is served to someone at your home and then copies are mailed to you, then you should be there at the court on that particular date specified in the court papers. Your home should be the usual place of abode and a family member (at least 13 years old) should be living there.

There is a big reason why ‘abode service’ counts. The family member who gets served will obviously notify you about the court papers. He or she lives with you. So that person will certainly inform you. Even if that person forgets to inform, you’re not saved. You can get the papers in the mail.

Note: The ‘abode service’ is not counted unless you or a family member receives court papers at your home and copies are mailed to you.

So ask your family members if they have received court papers. I have met many people who were shocked when their wages were garnished. They didn’t even know about getting served. When those people asked their family members on my insistence, they were shocked. Their family members got served but they forgot to inform the defendant.

Two questions can come into your mind at this stage. I’m trying to answer them as honestly as I can.

(i) Can you be served by a certified mail?

Yes. You can get served by certified mail in small claims cases. But only a circuit clerk’s office can send it. You also need to sign for it. If someone else signs for it or the mailman ignores the delivery requirement, then the court won’t consider that you have been properly served.

(ii) Can you refuse to be served with court papers?

The law varies from state to state. In some states, the defendant doesn’t have to formally accept the paper. In other states, if you refuse to be served with papers, the process server can leave them at your house and walk away.

Your primary questions were: (a) What happens if a summons is not served? (b) Does a summons have to be served in person? Hopefully, you got your answers.

What happens if you never get served court papers? Relax. The court can’t issue a judgment against you. The plaintiff can attempt to serve you on another day.

I would suggest you two things. Check if the plaintiff completed the ‘abode service’ at some place that’s not your residence. For instance, may be you live at another place for your job. The plaintiff sent the court papers at your primary residence where you don’t live anymore. Call your mom and dad. Ask if they have signed for the certified or registered mail. If they say ‘yes’, then you have been properly served. You should give a reply to the summons within 21 days and consult an attorney immediately. If you don’t show up at court, the plaintiff can win the case and garnish your wages.

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