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Serving Legal Documents

Updated: Sep 11

Spokane County’s methods for serving legal documents.

Starting a legal matter begins with paperwork. To get everything rolling you have to file your Summons and Petition (the beginning documents) with the Clerk’s office. Then you have to serve the other party with those same documents. There are three ways to serve legal documents:


Personal Service


Personally serving someone legal documents requires having a third party (someone other than the petitioner) physically present the paperwork to the respondent. Even if the person refuses to take the paperwork they are considered served so long as they had the opportunity to accept.


Personal service is the fastest and most reliable option for service.


Anyone who is over the age of 18 can personally serve legal documents. After serving the documents to the respondent, the server should fill out a Proof of Personal Service form (FL 101) and file the document with the county clerk. The form proves under penalty of law that the documents were served.


What if I don’t know anyone who can serve the documents?


You can hire a process server to serve the documents or hire the Sheriff’s office. When hiring a third party to complete service, you must provide the respondent’s current address where the server can deliver the papers.


Service by Mail


Serving by mail means the documents are mailed to the respondent through certified mail.


Certified mail is the postal service where a receipt is provided to the sender proving delivery. This method of mailing is best because there is a physical record of service. Remember, the person serving the documents must be a third party over the age of 18 (you cannot put the documents in the envelope).


To serve by mail you must get permission from the court before mailing the documents.


To get permission to serve by mail, you must show that you have attempted to personally serve the other party and have been unable to do so. You must explain in detail what steps you have taken to try to serve the other party. You must complete:

  • Motion to Serve by Mail (FL 104)

  • Order to Allow Service by Mail (FL 105)

  • Summons Served by Mail (FL 106)


The Motion and Order must be signed by a judicial officer before they are mailed.


Two copies must be sent by mail. One copy is sent by regular mail and the other is sent by certified mail. After the documents have been mailed, the third party who mailed the documents needs to complete the Proof of Service by Mail (FL 107) to prove service has been completed. This form requires that you attach a copy of the certified mail receipt to the form when you file it. This form must then be filed with the Clerk’s office and you must keep a copy for your records.


If a party is served by mail, they get a longer response period (typically 90 days from the date of mailing in a Family Law case) before they can be defaulted for failure to file a response.


Alternative Service – Publication


Alternative service, or service by publication, is the method of service where the petition is published in a newspaper in the area where the respondent lives.


In Spokane County the ad must run for six weeks. The cost of publication is the responsibility of the person serving the documents. There are no waivers available for the publication fees.


To serve by publication you must show that you have attempted to personally serve the other party and have been unable to do so. You must explain in detail what steps you have taken to try to serve the other party.


You must get permission from the court before publishing the documents.


To get permission to publish the documents, you must complete:

  • Motion to Serve by Publication (FL 108)

  • Order to Allow Service by Publication (FL 109)

  • Summons Served by Publication (FL 110)


The Motion and Order must be signed by a judicial officer before publishing the documents.


The notice may be published in any publication that covers the area in which you believe the other party resides. Different publications have different rates for publishing legal notices; it is best to call around before deciding where to publish. After the publication period has been completed, you need to file the Proof of Publication form with the clerk’s office as proof service was completed. You are required to attach the proof you receive from the editor showing the publication to the proof of service.


If a party is served by publication, they get a longer response period (typically 61 days from the date of mailing in a Family Law case) before they can be defaulted for failure to file a response.


Learn more about serving legal documents in Spokane County.

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