An affidavit of non-service is a sworn legal statement indicating that a person was unable to serve a legal document. This statement goes on record to demonstrate an effort to reach the subject of the legal document and provide details about when and how service was attempted. If and when the case reaches court, and a dispute over service of court-related documents arises, this affidavit can be used to prove a good faith effort to make contact with the subject of the document.
People tasked with serving legal documents can include law enforcement officers, as well as private process servers. In both cases, people are expected to locate the subject of the document and personally deliver it. Some steps may need to be taken, such as tracking down a forwarding address or finding out where a person works. If an initial attempt at service fails, it must be attempted again. Process servers may ask friends and neighbors for help when attempting to locate someone with the goal of successfully serving the paperwork.
If, despite trying to serve the document in every reasonable place and at a variety of times, and the process server deems it undeliverable, an affidavit of non-service is filed. The affidavit names the process server and provides contact information before listing the details of service attempts and explaining why they failed. A server might note that a neighbor said the subject moved without leaving a forwarding address, for instance, or that an employer indicated a person was no longer employed.
In the affidavit of non-service, the process server documents the due diligence used to try to find the subject of the document. Depending on the type of case involved, various legal actions can be taken, including moving forward with the case and potentially entering a judgment against the subject in absentia.
Process servers try to avoid situations where they end up having to file an affidavit of non-service, as this can make a case more difficult to handle in court. They are allowed to use a variety of techniques when tracking people down to serve legal papers, and sometimes it can take several weeks to successfully locate someone, especially if that person is actively attempting to avoid the process server. It is advisable for people to leave forwarding address and work information when they move to avoid cases where a process server tries to reach them and fails, allowing court proceedings to move on without them.
Does an Affidavit Have To Be Notarized?
Finding someone to notarize your affidavit can be a hassle and cost money, and you might be wondering if it's necessary to get that notarization at all. Each state has its own rules as to what's valid. Still, it's always a good idea to get your affidavit notarized.
Sometimes you can get around this by preparing an unsworn declaration, stating in writing and under oath of perjury that you are who you say you are. However, if you're providing a sworn affidavit of non-service, it needs to be signed in front of a notary. An affidavit is considered evidence in court cases, and if it doesn't have that notary seal, the judge will often reject it.
The Importance of Honesty
Creating an affidavit is similar to offering testimony in court. If you have prepared an affidavit of non-service, or someone else has written it up for you and you sign it (which means in legal terms that you are the affiant), you are bound by your statement in that document.
Likewise, signing an affidavit is just as serious an undertaking as testifying in court. You don't want to lie under oath, which is perjury and can lead to dire consequences, including jail time. In the same way, signing an affidavit with false or misleading information can lead to obstruction of justice and could mean prison time for you.
The Necessity of Notarizing
This is why the notary is a crucial part of the legal process. Depending on the state in which they live, notaries take special training to prepare them for their role as public servants and are required by state law to ensure that the papers they notarize are accurate and actually endorsed by those who are supposed to be signing those documents. They are relied on by the court system to prove the validity of the affidavits entered into any court case.
Without the seal of a notary public, there's no proof that you're the one who signed the document. Anyone could write up an affidavit and then forge your name on it, and for that reason, such papers that aren't notarized can be thrown out of court. A notary public will ask to see proof of your identity, typically a driver's license or a passport, and then sign an oath stating that you are truly the one who inked the document.
Why Is Notarization Required?
Affidavits are useful because going to court can be expensive and difficult for everyone involved. For the person testifying, it can mean taking off from work and spending hours at the courthouse. For the attorneys as well as the judge and possible jury, it means additional time listening to live testimony. Introducing affidavits helps streamline the process and saves time and money for everyone involved.
Proving Your Identity and Willingness To Sign
Although it might not always be the case, signing an affidavit of non-service might enable you to avoid a court appearance to swear in person that you were unable to serve a legal document. However, because the judge and jury can't observe you as you testify, it's important that a notary swears that you signed the affidavit of your own free will and that you haven't been forced to sign that document.
Likewise, the notary also swears an oath that you know everything in the affidavit that you're signing. Again, this goes back to the idea that you're not being forced, or in this case, duped into signing something that you shouldn't. It's in the notary's best interest and your own to make sure you have read the entire document and understand all of the contents within.
Confirming Your Accountability
As an important functionary in any civil or criminal case, the notary often stands in your place, testifying that you're of sound mind and that everything in the affidavit is true to the best of your knowledge. In the same way that courts hold you accountable for every sentence in your affidavit, your notary is also bound by the oath made on that paper. As well, just like you, the notary can face prison time if willfully notarizing a document that is false in some manner. That's what gives a notarized affidavit its validity in court.
While you may be tempted to avoid the effort of finding a notary, it's always a good idea no matter where you live to get your affidavit of non-service notarized. Think of it as a strong defense to keep you from facing fines, community service or even jail time.