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What methods of service does a process server use to deliver documents?

Region: Ontario Answer # 3008

What does method of service mean?

Method of service refers to the way a document is delivered to the other party (the defendant or respondent in a legal action).  Process servers must serve documents in accordance with the rules and procedures set out in provincial law. These laws determine:

  • who may serve legal documents; and
  • how they may be served (e.g., personally delivered, mail etc.)

How documents must be served depends on which court the action is taking place in, and what documents are being served. For example, in most provinces, many family court documents such an application for divorce, motion to change and summons to witness, cannot be delivered by anyone who is a party to the action. They must be delivered by someone else, such as a friend, or a professional process server.

What are the different methods of service?

In Ontario, the most common methods of service are:

  • Personal service
  • Alternatives to personal service, and
  • Substituted service

Personal Service

When a document is handed to an individual personally, or “hand-delivered”, this is known as personal service. If the person refuses to take the document, it actually can be dropped on the floor at his or her feet. As long as you confirm the identify of the person and that you have either handed over the document or left it in front of that person and walked away, it is considered valid personal service.

Personal service can take place at the individual’s home, or any other location.


Alternatives to Personal Service

Ontario’s Rules of Civil Procedure include the following alternatives to personal service:

  • Service at Place of Residence: can be used when serving a party at their known place of residence, and at the time of service, the individual is not home, and include
    • leaving a copy of documents in a sealed envelope and correctly addressed with an adult member of the same household who is at least 18 years old, and
    • mailing a copy of the documents to the respondent or sending the documents by courier on the same day or the next day to their place of residence.
  • Service by Mail to Last Known Address
  • Service on a Corporation
  • Acceptance of Service by Lawyer

For more information on alternatives to personal service, view Section 16.03 of the Rules.

Substituted Service

If it is not possible to serve documents by personal service or alternative to personal service, a motion for substituted service may be filed with the court to obtain permission from a judge to serve the documents in a different way. This may be necessary if, for example, the person has moved and cannot be located, or the person is deliberately avoiding being served.

Before granting an order for substituted service the judge must be satisfied that all reasonable efforts have been taken to locate the individual and serve them personally.

If the address of the person to be served is known but service was unsuccessful, common methods of substituted service are:

  • posting the documents on the door of the residence,
  • mailing copies to their lawyer or legal representative or one of their staff,
  • sending documents by courier or fax, or
  • emailing the documents, if the other party has given permission to do so.

If service is not possible because the address of the person to be served is not known, common methods of substituted service are:

  • mailing the documents to the defendant’s last known address,
  • by publication in a local newspaper in the area where the defendant is known to resides, or in a national newspaper if there is evidence the person lives in Canada, or
  • posting on social media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.)

There are also rules and guidelines for serving a business or corporation, as opposed to an individual.

Affidavit of Service

In all cases, whether service was on an individual or business, the person who served the documents, such as a process server, must complete an Affidavit of Service and file it with the court. An Affidavit of Service proves that the person (or business) was served. It records certain information, including:

  • the date, time and address where the documents were served
  • the dates and times when attempts were made to serve the defendant/respondent

The process server must then sign the Affidavit and swear that what they say is true in front of a commissioner of oaths, a lawyer, or a notary public.  View topic 3009 What is an affidavit of service or proof of service for more information.


Why use a process server to serve your documents?

While it is possible to serve some documents yourself, it is a good idea to hire a professional process server to serve your documents instead of using a family member, friend or other non-professional, because it ensures that the papers are properly served and guarantees that the service is recognized by the courts. Process servers can serve the documents, and complete and file the Affidavit of Service with the court on your behalf.

As mentioned, provincial laws exist regarding rules and regulations, such as acceptable methods of service and the proper order in which documents must be served if there are multiple parties. If you use a process server, the judge will be satisfied that the document was served according to the legal requirements. For more information, view topic 3015 Do you have to use a process server or can you deliver documents yourself?

For more information about serving legal documents, refer to the Ministry of the Attorney General  Guide to Serving Documents. You can also refer to the Small Claims CourtFamily Law, or Lawsuits / Civil Litigation sections of Legal Line.

A professional process server will also be able provide you with the information you need to know regarding how your documents must be served.

Get help

To hire a process server to serve legal documents, file court documents, conduct legal searches, or for other services, contact our preferred experts:

Ontario Wide Process Servers

Lormit Personal Services

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