What is Substituted Service? (California)

Updated: Apr 29

Substituted service is when the process server gives the service paper to an adult that works, lives, or receives mail at the location of the service, rather than directly to the person being sued. Substituted service can be used if personal service (serving the paper directly to the person being sued) fails.


  1. Locate an adult for service:

  2. Defendant is an individual: hand the papers to a competent adult 18 years or older who is a member of the household (if at home), or an adult who appears to be in charge of the defendant's workplace (if at work)

  3. Defendant is a business: hand the papers to a corporate officer or agent for service of process

  4. Defendant's physical location is not known: hand the papers to an adult who seems to be in charge of where the person receives mail (this does not apply to P.O. Boxes)

  5. Tell the person "Please give these legal court documents to [name of the service target]."

  6. Give the adult copies of all the papers checked on SC-104

  7. Obtain the name of the person the court papers were given to.

  8. If the person will not give their name, write down the physical description

  9. Mail another copy of the papers (via first-class mail) to the person being sued at the same address where you left the papers

  10. Fill and sign SC-104 Proof of Service and SC-104 Proof of Mailing (Substituted Service).

Things to note:

  • Substituted service is not a very reliable type of service because the court does not know for sure the person had received the paperwork, but if the person cannot be located after multiple attempts, it's a good alternative.

  • The deadline to complete substituted service is usually earlier than personal service. At the time of this article, personal service must be done 15 days prior to the hearing, and substituted service must be done 25 days prior.

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