When a civil complaint or petition is filed with the court in most jurisdictions, the plaintiff, or person who filed the complaint or petition, is responsible for assuring the court that the respondent, or defendant, receives a copy of the filed document. The manner in which service of process may be perfected will vary by jurisdiction. In many jurisdictions, however, one manner by which service may be perfected is by acceptance of service by the respondent or defendant. When acceptance of service is used, the respondent must acknowledge that he or she has received a copy of the complaint or petition without the need for any of the traditional methods used to perfect service of process.
Service of process is required in civil actions in order to avoid a judgment being entered against a respondent without the respondent having notification of the complaint or petition. Within most legal systems, a respondent has a right to respond to, and defend, a lawsuit. By requiring that the plaintiff to serve the respondent with a copy of the complaint or petition, the court can be assured that the respondent is given an opportunity to defend the allegations contained therein.
There are many different manners in which service of process may be perfected. Each jurisdiction decides what methods of service are acceptable within the jurisdiction. Common methods of acceptable ways in which a respondent may be served include: service by registered or certified mail; service by a civil sheriff or licensed process server; service by personal service by someone over the age of 18 and not a party to the action; service by publication; and service by acceptance of service by the respondent.
As a rule, service by acceptance of service is only used in cases such as a divorce proceeding, as it requires cooperation on the part of the respondent. In a divorce proceeding where the parties remain civil, the plaintiff may offer to serve the respondent by acceptance of service to avoid the cost and time required for one of the other methods of service of process. If acceptance of service is used, the respondent must be in agreement, as he or she is required to sign a document acknowledging that he or she has received a copy of the complaint or petition.
Regardless of the method of service used, the court must receive proof that service has been completed. A signed return receipt, for example, serves as proof when service is perfected by certified mail. If the civil sheriff, a process server, or another person completes service of the documents, then he or she must generally sign an affidavit attesting to the fact that service was completed. When acceptance of service is used, the respondent must also sign an affidavit acknowledging service of the documents and waiving the right to receive service by another manner. If the court is not satisfied that service has been perfected, it has the option to dismiss the proceedings altogether in most cases.