TexasLawHelp.org has several articles on how to serve someone with court papers, as briefly covered in a previous Ex Libris Juris post. For this post in the Civ Pro series, we would like to highlight frequently asked questions by pro se litigants who are serving court documents. TexasLawHelp and TexasCourtHelp are two excellent resources to start with when learning about civil procedure in Texas. For the complete procedure on serving someone in Texas, read Rules 99-124 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.

What does it mean to serve someone?
“Service of process” means giving legal notice to the other side of a lawsuit that you have filed your case.

Will I have to serve someone for my case?
Generally, if you are naming a respondent in your case, then that person must be notified that the case has been filed. Each respondent in a case must be served with the “initial court papers.”

A respondent does not have to be served with the initial court papers if they will fill out and sign either:

  • An answer, or

  • A Waiver of Service (signed in front of a notary)

Which papers do I serve?
Generally, only the initial court papers need to be served by a process server or the court clerk. The “initial court papers” are the documents you file to start your case. Depending on the kind of lawsuit you are pursuing, the documents you file to start your case will vary. Generally, the initial court papers include:

  • The citation you receive from the clerk’s office when you file your case

  • A copy of the petition

  • Copies of any other forms filed with your petition

You may send copies of any additional papers you file during your case to the respondent(s) yourself.

How do I serve someone?

  • Personal service

    • Performed by a constable, sheriff, or private process server.

    • The process server will deliver the initial court papers to the respondent in person and will complete and file a Return of Service form as proof that the respondent is served.

    • The respondent will not have to sign anything.

    • The Secretary of State may also act as a process agent.

  • Service by registered or certified mail

    • You may request that the clerk send copies of your court documents to the respondent by certified mail when you file your documents at the clerk’s office.

    • A constable can also perform service by certified mail.

    • The respondent will receive the initial court papers by certified mail, and then sign and return the return receipt to the clerk.

    • The clerk (or constable) will complete and file the Return of Service form once they receive the signed return receipt from the respondent.

  • Substituted service by court order

    • If you have tried to serve the respondent in person or by certified mail without success, you may ask the judge for permission to serve the respondent in another way. File a Motion for Substituted Service and a Rule 106(b) Affidavit to request service in another manner.

  • If you do not know where the respondent is, you may be able to serve by posting or serve by publication.

What do I do if I have been served?
If you have been served with court papers for a lawsuit, it is important that you respond, or the case may proceed without you. Generally, you have 20 days to respond to lawsuit once you have been served. There is no fee for responding to a lawsuit. Read this article from TexasCourtHelp to learn more about your options if you have been served with a lawsuit.

How do I serve someone who is incarcerated?
If the incarcerated person has a lawyer, only serve case documents to that lawyer. Contact the prison or jail in which the respondent is incarcerated to find out the prison or jail’s procedure for serving someone. Or you may contact the sheriff or constable of the county where the respondent is incarcerated. In general, you may not serve an inmate with case documents by mail, even if it is certified. For more information, read this article from TexasLawHelp on serving and issuing of citation when the respondent is incarcerated.

Harris County Service of Process Requests

More information