This answer is written by AI. The information provided in this response is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as legal advice. Do not rely solely on the information provided in this response for any legal decisions. Consult with a qualified legal professional before making any decisions.

Can You Serve Legal Papers Through a Relative in California?

Question from Mish, Can You Serve Legal Papers Through a Relative in California?

Answer from AI:

When you’re involved in a small claims court case in California, one of the first steps after filing your claim is to serve the defendant with the court papers. This process, known as “service of process,” is crucial because it ensures that the person you’re suing is officially notified about the lawsuit and has an opportunity to respond. However, what happens when you cannot find the defendant’s current address? Is it permissible to serve the papers to a family member, such as the defendant’s mother, even if the defendant doesn’t live with her? Let’s explore the legal framework surrounding this issue.

Understanding Service of Process

Service of process in California is governed by the California Code of Civil Procedure. The law outlines acceptable methods for serving legal documents to ensure fair notice. Generally, the preferred method is personal service, where the documents are handed directly to the defendant. If personal service isn’t possible, there are alternative methods, such as substitute service or service by mail with acknowledgment.

Substitute Service

Substitute service becomes an option when you have made reasonable attempts at personal service but have been unsuccessful. This method allows you to leave the documents with another adult at the defendant’s residence or place of business, followed by mailing a copy to the same address. However, for substitute service to be valid, certain conditions must be met:

  1. The location where you leave the documents must be the defendant’s usual place of residence or business.
  2. The person you leave the documents with must be a competent adult.
  3. You must also mail a copy of the documents to the same address where you left them.

It’s important to note that serving papers to a family member at an address where the defendant does not live and which is not their last known address does not typically satisfy the requirements for substitute service under California law.

When Serving Papers Through a Relative Might Be Considered

Given the specific scenario where the defendant’s current address is unknown, and all efforts to locate them have been unsuccessful, serving papers through a relative might not directly align with the standard procedures outlined for substitute service. However, there are a few points to consider:

  • If the defendant’s mother’s house is a place where the defendant frequently receives mail or has listed as a contact address in the past, it might be argued as a last known address, but this is a gray area and could be challenged in court.
  • Documenting your attempts to locate the defendant and serve the papers directly is crucial. This includes detailing the efforts made to find their current address and why you believe serving the papers through a relative might be the only feasible option.

Seeking Legal Advice

Given the complexities and potential legal implications of serving court papers, it’s advisable to consult with a legal professional. An attorney can provide guidance tailored to your specific situation and help ensure that your actions align with California’s legal requirements. Additionally, the court clerk or a legal self-help center may offer resources and advice on service of process.

For more detailed information on service of process in California, you can refer to the California Courts official guide.


While serving legal papers through a relative at an address where the defendant does not live is not the standard procedure and may not meet the legal requirements for valid service in California, each case has unique circumstances. Documenting your efforts to locate the defendant and consulting with a legal professional can help navigate this challenging aspect of your small claims case. Remember, proper service of process is essential for your case to proceed, and ensuring it’s done correctly can avoid complications later in the legal process.

Click to rate this post!
[Total: 0 Average: 0]

Leave a Comment