To serve someone means to give that person notice that court papers have been filed against them. It is important for you to have the Respondent served with a copy of the personal protection order petition and signed personal protection order (PPO) as soon as possible. There are several ways that you can have the Respondent served in your PPO case. You cannot serve the Respondent yourself.
What If My PPO Is Not Served?
Your PPO goes into effect as soon as the judge signs it. It can be enforced immediately. If your PPO is not served, the police still must enforce it. However, the type of enforcement depends on whether your PPO has been served on the Respondent.
If your PPO has not been served, the Respondent will not be arrested for disobeying the order unless there has been an assault or other crime. Instead, the police will tell the Respondent about the PPO. The police then notify the court clerk and the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN) that the Respondent has notice of the PPO. After the police tell the Respondent about the PPO, the Respondent can be arrested for any violation of the PPO, even if the violation is not also a crime. For more information about enforcement of your PPO, read the article Personal Protection Order Violations and Enforcement.
How Do I Serve the PPO Papers?
Gather the Things You Need for Service
For Ex Parte PPOs
- The petition you filed,
- Any supporting documents that you filed, and
- The signed PPO
If You Request a Hearing
If you did not get an ex parte PPO, you can ask the court for a hearing. The Respondent must be served with:
- The petition you filed,
- Any supporting documents you filed, and
- The notice of hearing
The Respondent must be served at least one day before the hearing date if you are asking for a domestic relationship PPO or a nondomestic stalking PPO. If you filed a petition for a nondomestic sexual assault PPO, the Respondent must be served at least two days before the hearing.
If the judge enters a PPO at the hearing, you must also have the PPO served. If the Respondent is present at the hearing, sometimes court staff will serve them. Check with the judge's clerk or other staff to find out.
For Ex Parte PPOs and PPOs Issued after a Hearing
To make it easier for the process server to find and serve the Respondent, you can also give the following information about the Respondent to the process server:
- The Respondent’s home address
- The Respondent’s work address
- The best time to serve the papers (if you know)
- Information about the Respondent’s vehicle (make, model, color, etc.)
- Any special safety information that the process server needs to know (for example, the Respondent carries a weapon)
- Identifying information about the Respondent (like age, height, weight, eye and hair color, tattoos, scars, etc.)
Have the Papers Served
There are several ways to have your PPO documents served. Choose which kind of service makes the most sense in your case. You can pay someone to serve the papers. You can have a friend or relative serve the papers if you think it is safe for them to do that. Remember, you can’t give the papers to the Respondent yourself. An advocate from your local domestic violence organization may be able to help you figure out how to have the Respondent served. Read more about the types of service below.
Note: If the Respondent is under 18, you must have court papers served on their parent(s), guardian(s), or custodian(s) if you know their location, in addition to having the Respondent served. To learn more, read Minors and Personal Protection Orders.
Personal Service by Professional Process Server
You can hire a process server. The court may be able to give you the names of local process servers. A professional process server will charge you a fee. The fee will likely be higher than the fee a law enforcement agency would charge, but service may be faster.
Personal Service by Law Enforcement
In some counties, the sheriff or a local police department will serve the Respondent for you. There is usually a cost for this, but not always. This type of service may be safer than having a friend or relative serve the papers.
Personal Service by a Friend or Relative
If you choose a friend or relative to serve the papers, they must be over 18. Pick someone who is not involved in the PPO case and who won’t be a witness in the PPO case. Think carefully about whether it is safe for your friend or relative to hand the papers to the Respondent in person. If a friend or relative serves the papers, they must sign the Proof of Service in front of a notary.
Service by Registered Mail
The server can mail the papers by registered or certified mail, with service restricted to the Respondent and a return receipt requested. This type of service only works if the Respondent accepts delivery of the papers and if you have a safe address where the return receipt can be mailed.
To have the papers served by mail, have a friend or relative go to the post office and pay to mail the papers to the Respondent in this way. If the Respondent accepts delivery, you will get a green card (the return receipt) in the mail. Make sure that the Respondent signed the green card. You must include the signed return receipt with the Proof of Service.
If you can’t have the Respondent served by any of these methods, you can ask the court for permission to have them served by regular first class mail or another way. You must file a Motion and Verification for Alternate Service. If the judge allows alternate service, they will sign an Order for Alternate Service.
Service at a Hearing
If the judge decides to grant your PPO at a hearing, the judge will sign the order. If the Respondent attends the hearing, you can ask the court to serve the Respondent at that time. If the Respondent doesn’t attend the hearing, you must arrange for service of the signed PPO.
Plan for Safety as the PPO Is Served
You may be worried that the Respondent will be angry and become more threatening when served with the PPO. You can ask the person who serves the PPO to let you know when it has been served. That way, you can take steps that might help make you safer at that time. Your local domestic violence organization may be able to help you make a safety plan.
File the Proof of Service with the Court
After the Respondent is served with the PPO papers, the person who served the papers must complete the Proof of Service form that came with your petition. If the person who served the PPO is not a court officer, sheriff, or bailiff, they must sign the Proof of Service in front of a notary. They must file the Proof of Service with the court clerk, or give it back to you so you can file it. Be sure to get a copy for your records.
A notary can usually be found at a bank or the court clerk's office.
Make Sure Your PPO Is Entered into the LEIN
The LEIN is a statewide computer database used by police and other law enforcement agencies. An officer can search the LEIN database to find out if there is a PPO against another person and whether or not that PPO was served. Having your PPO and Proof of Service entered into LEIN will help the police enforce your PPO.
If the court grants your PPO, the judge will decide which law enforcement agency must enter the PPO information into LEIN. The court clerk must deliver a copy of your PPO and Proof of Service to that law enforcement agency. You can also hand-deliver a copy of your PPO to the law enforcement agency. Ask the court clerk if the PPO will be delivered immediately (by fax or other means) or if it will be mailed. If the court clerk only mails the PPO, you might want to hand-deliver a copy of your PPO to the law enforcement agency so it is entered into LEIN more quickly.
You can also contact the law enforcement agency yourself to make sure your PPO has been entered into LEIN. You can do the same once you file your Proof of Service to make sure it has been entered into LEIN too.