Serving the other side with notice of a lawsuit is typically done in person or through the mail. In some cases, however, a person may be served by publication in a newspaper.
Following the filing of a complaint -- the document which describes the lawsuit and identifies the parties involved -- the party filing the lawsuit must complete what is known as "service of process." There are typically very specific rules for how service must be completed, depending on the type of case and the jurisdiction in which it is being filed.
Generally speaking, however, when can you serve process via publication?
When All Else Fails...
Typically, a plaintiff is first required to attempt to locate the defendant and serve him or her through personal service -- in which a defendant is personally handed the summons and complaint -- or substitute service in which the papers are left at a defendant's home or business, or delivered via certified mail.
Many times, a person who may not know where to find a defendant can hire a professional process server to accomplish service of process. However, when the defendant is unable to be located or avoids being served by other means, a plaintiff may be able to request to serve the defendant via publication, usually in a newspaper or other widely distributed publication.
The notice is then posted in a newspaper or publication approved by the court for the required length of time. In California family law cases, for example, the required document must be published once a week for four weeks in a row.
How Does Service by Publication Work?
Service of process is intended to put the defendant on notice of a lawsuit and give him the opportunity to defend himself should he so choose. In order to proceed with the lawsuit, the plaintiff filing the lawsuit must show that he has put the defendant on notice by showing proof of service.
In the event that service by publication is allowed, the defendant is typically considered to have been put on constructive notice. Constructive notice does not require that the defendant ever actually received notice of the lawsuit, only that the means by which process was legally sufficient to fulfill the notice requirement.
If you need help with your lawsuit, a lawyer who specializes in civil litigation can explain the legal options available for service of process. You can also find more tips for how to sue at FindLaw's section on Filing a Lawsuit.