Serving Court Papers
Everyone who files a court paper must serve it on all other parties, on interested persons when required, and on any attorneys who have filed an appearance in the case. The term "serve" means to provide notice; in other words, everyone has the right to "due process" under the law. It is critical that everyone involved in a case is provided with proper notice of every paper filed in that case. Without this "due process," a case can be dismissed for lack of service. Service in civil cases filed in circuit and district court is regulated by Michigan Court Rules 2.101 through 2.
108 and service for cases filed in probate court is regulated by Michigan Court Rules 5.102 through 5.108
. See also information about commencing an action and service of process in the Michigan Compiled Laws
. It is very important that court papers are served properly and timely.
The following information is general in nature and is intended to give you general guidance about service requirements. It is very important that you read the Michigan Court Rules related to your type of case in addition to the information on this page to find out the exact service requirements for your case. Any additional service requirements will be stated on the pages explaining how to process your particular type of case.
This self-help center does not contain information about service in cases that are started by state agencies, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and other similar entities. Examples are criminal cases, juvenile delinquency cases, child protective cases, traffic cases, and civil infraction cases.
Who May Serve
Process in civil cases may be served by any legally competent adult who is not a party or an officer of a corporate party to the case except that a writ of restitution or process requiring the seizure or attachment of property may only be served by a sheriff or deputy sheriff, or a bailiff or court officer appointed by the court for that purpose.
If personal service of process in civil cases is to be made on a person in a governmental institution, hospital, or home, service must be made by the person in charge of the institution or by someone designated by that person.
Process in civil cases requiring the arrest of a person may be served only by a sheriff, deputy sheriff, or police officer, or by a court officer appointed by the court for that purpose.
Process in probate cases may be made by an adult or emancipated minor, including an interested person, except that personal service on a person in a governmental institution, hospital, or home must be made by the person in charge of the institution or a person designated by that person.
Who to Serve After Opening a Case
Different types of cases will involve service on different people. After a case is opened (by filing either a complaint or a petition), depending on the type of case, you must either "summon" the other parties to the court or notify the persons who have an interest in the case. This is done by serving the complaint or petition and either a summons or notice of hearing (along with any other documents filed with the complaint or petition). Below are some broad types of cases and who must be served in those cases. For proper service, you must refer to the Michigan Court Rules pertaining to the specific proceeding you have filed:
A complaint in a civil case (whether filed in a circuit, district, or probate court) must be served on each defendant named in the case, along with a summons issued by the clerk of the court. A civil case includes general civil, small claims, landlord-tenant, and land contract. For more information about serving civil cases under the General Civil Process
A complaint in a domestic relations case must be served on the defendant, along with a summons issued by the clerk of the court.
A petition filed in the probate court for an estate, trust, guardianship, conservatorship, mental illness, or judicial admission proceeding must be served on all interested persons, along with a notice of hearing. Interested persons in probate court cases are defined in MCR 5.125
A petition filed in the family division of the circuit court for cases such as adoption, emancipation of a minor, or name change, must be served according to the court rules pertaining to those particular proceedings. Details about these kinds of cases can be found elsewhere on this website.
How and When to Serve the Court Paper that Opens a Case
Serve papers for a civil case by personal delivery or by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, and delivery restricted to the other parties. In most civil cases, service must be made within 91 days of the date the complaint was filed with the clerk. If the time for service is different, it will be stated in the specific instructions for a particular type of case within this self-help center. Rules for service of the court paper that opens a civil case are MCR 2.102 and MCR 2.108
. Rules for service in some other types of civil proceedings are Garnishment, MCR 3.101(F) and MCR 3.102(D)
; Landlord-Tenant, MCR 4.201
, Land Contract Forfeiture, MCR 4.202
; and Small Claims, MCR 4.303
Serve papers for a probate case by personal delivery to the interested persons or by registered, certified, or ordinary first-class mail to the current address of an interested person. Rules for service of the court paper that opens a probate case are MCR 5.105 and 5.108
How and When to Serve a Notice of Hearing
The other parties and, in certain cases, "interested persons" must be notified of a hearing. A notice of hearing is typically served along with the court paper (complaint, petition, motion) that requested the hearing. The time for service is based on the type of court paper that requested the hearing. If the time for service is different, it will be stated in the specific instructions for a particular type of case within this self-help center.
In probate cases, service of a notice of hearing can be waived by interested persons. That means, the person waiving service is stating that they do not need to receive notice of hearings in a probate case. See MCR 5.104(B)
How and When to Serve a Motion or Other Court Paper
The other party and, in certain cases, "interested persons" must be notified of the filing of a motion and related papers, along with the notice of hearing either 9 or 7 days before the hearing date, depending upon the method of service used. Michigan Court Rules for service of motions in civil cases are MCR 2.107 and MCR 2.119(C). Michigan Court Rules for service of motions in probate cases are MCR 5.107 and MCR 2.119(C).
How and When to Serve an Order
Except for default judgments, the party responsible for getting a judgment or an order signed must serve a copy on all other parties and any interested persons within 7 days after the judgment or order has been signed. The Michigan Court Rule for service of civil judgments and orders is MCR 2.602(D)(1). The Michigan Court Rule for service of probate orders is MCR 5.107.
Types and Costs of Service
Service on Individuals
Service of the court paper that opens a case is more restrictive than service of other court papers. Service of this paper must be done by delivering court papers to the party personally or by sending the court papers by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, with delivery restricted to the individual's last known address. Service is made when the party acknowledges receipt of the mail. A copy of the return receipt signed by the party must be attached to the proof. After this court paper is served, service of all other papers in a case can be done as above or by first-class mail. See MCR 2.105
for specific details in civil cases. See MCR 5.105
for specific detail in probate cases.
If service of civil cases cannot be made, the court may permit service by posting or publication, or any other manner that could reasonably give actual notice of the proceedings. Any request for alternate service must be made in a verified motion and the only type of alternate service that can be made must be specifically stated in the circuit or district court order. A fee is required. See MCR 2.106
for details. A motion for alternate service
(form MC 303) is available.
If service of probate cases cannot be made because the address or whereabouts of an interested person is unknown, papers can be served by publication if an affidavit or declaration is filed with the probate court. A fee is required. See MCR 5.105(A)(3) for details. A motion for alternate service (form MC 303) is available.
Service on Corporations and Associations
For service on corporations and associations, see MCR 2.105
The cost of personal service varies but can be over $100. The cost of service by registered or certified mail is often less than $10.00.
When Court Papers Cannot be Served
Sometimes court papers cannot be served because the address of the person to be served is wrong or the whereabouts of the person to be served are unknown. A hearing cannot be held until it can be proven to the court that both parties know about the hearing or that every effort was made to serve the court papers. If the other person's copy of the court papers is returned to you undeliverable, you must:
- Find out the current address of the other person.
- If there are less than 9 days before the original hearing date, cancel the original hearing date and schedule a new one.
- Fill out another notice of hearing form and serve the court papers again at the new address.
- When a new address cannot be obtained, cancel the original hearing date and file a motion with the court for alternate service. See details.
Proof of Service
Proof of service is not always required. It is important to read the Michigan Court Rules related to your type of case to find out whether proof of service is required.
Proof of service of the court paper that starts a civil case must be made by: 1) written acknowledgment of the receipt of a summons and a copy of the complaint, dated and signed by the person to whom the service is directed or by a person authorized under these rules to receive the service of process; 2) a certificate stating the facts of service including the manner, time, date, and place of service if service is made within the State of Michigan by (a) a sheriff, a deputy sheriff, or bailiff if that officer holds office in the county in which the court issuing the process is held, (b) an appointed court officer, or (c) an attorney for a party; or 3) an affidavit stating the facts of service including the manner, time, date, and place of service and indicating the process server's official capacity, if any.
Proof of service of the court papers in a probate case may be made by: 1) a copy of the notice of hearing, if any; 2) copies of other papers served with the notice of hearing, with a description of the papers in the proof of service; or 3) authentication by the person making service.
Proof of service of other court papers can be made as outlined above or in another form that is satisfactory to the court.
The proof of service should contain the name of the person being served, the place of service (such as the address where the service was made or a description of the location), and the date and time of service.
Most court forms contain a proof of service or a certificate of mailing.