Representing Yourself in Court : Service

What does it mean to be served with court documents?
After you file court papers with the Clerk of courts, Ohio law requires that the opposing party be notified of this filing. This notice is called “service.”

Why is service so important?
Service gives the other party a chance to respond to whatever it is that you have requested from the court. It is only fair that both parties to a lawsuit have the chance to present their side of the case to the court.

If the opposing party is not properly notified, the court does not have the power to make any decisions regarding your case. In fact, your case could be dismissed if service is not completed in a timely fashion.

Who notifies the opposing party and how?
The Clerk of courts. Soon after you file, the Clerk will send or deliver one copy of all the forms you filed to the opposing party at the address you provided for that person.

Some courts will send these documents by certified mail - requiring a signature by the opposing party or another adult living with him/her.

Other courts will deliver these documents to the opposing party in person.

Often courts charge different fees for types of services. Certified mail is least expensive. You will have to choose and pay for service when you file your documents.

How will I know if service has failed?
The court will send you a notice in the mail letting you know that service has failed. The notice will tell you why service was not successful. Service usually fails because the opposing party refuses to sign for the documents or no longer lives at the address you gave to the court.

If this first effort is not successful . . . the court will notify you and then YOU must take steps to ensure service is completed!

The court will not do anything, unless you write to them and tell them what you want them to do. If you don’t do anything, your case could be dismissed!

What to do after receiving a notice from the court?
Try to find another, more current, address for the opposing party. Call friends and family members. You must make your best effort to locate the opposing party.

  • If you are able to find a more recent address for the opposing party, complete a new instruction for service form (available from the clerks of courts office), requesting service by certified mail to this new address.

  • If you are unable to find a more recent address for the opposing party, write a letter to the Clerk of courts requesting them to serve the papers by ordinary mail.

Wait about three weeks. Then call the Clerk of courts and ask if this second attempt at service was successful. Unless documents are returned to the court stamped “undeliverable,” service was completed.

If documents are returned to the court and stamped “undeliverable,” you must write to the Clerk of courts and request Personal Service or Service by Posting or Publication.

What is personal service?
Your court papers will be hand-delivered to the opposing party by someone from the court or the sheriff’s department.

How do I obtain personal service?
You must complete a new instruction for service form (available from the clerk of court's office), and request Personal Service. You must tell the clerk where the opposing party will be on the date he or she will be served (work or home address) so the party can be located.

The court will notify you in writing if it was unable to serve the opposing party in person. If you receive a written notice from the court stating that Personal Service has failed, you must try Service by Publication or Posting.

If you do not get a notice from the court after about three weeks, call the clerk of court and ask if service was completed.

What is service by publication?
The court publishes a notice regarding your case in a local newspaper. This notice will be published for six weeks. After this six-week period expires, the court will wait 28 days before a hearing will be set.

From start to finish, service by publication takes about three months. Even if the opposing party never sees the publication, this is adequate service under Ohio law.

How do I request service by publication?
Ask the court if they have a fill-in-the-blank “Affidavit for Service by Publication.” If they do not, you must create your own. Title the document “Affidavit for Service by Publication” and give the following information:

  1. state that you do not know the residence of the opposing party;

  2. explain the steps you have taken trying to locate a proper address and that these steps have failed; and

  3. state that you cannot locate the opposing party’s residence with reasonable diligence.

(When a case involves land (real estate), service must be done by publication and you must describe the land involved.)

The Affidavit must be signed by you, notarized by a notary public, and filed with the Clerk of courts. You will have to pay a rather large fee (over $100) to file the affidavit.

What is service by posting? 
The court posts a notice regarding your case in two different locations in your community. This notice will be posted for six weeks. After this six-week period expires, the court will wait 28 days before setting a hearing date. Even if the opposing party never sees the posting, this is adequate service under Ohio law.

Who can request service by posting?
You can only request Service by Posting if:

  1. you are filing for a divorce, annulment or legal separation AND

  2. you filed a poverty affidavit (also known as an affidavit of indigency) with your request which allowed you to file without paying a filing fee.

If you did not file a poverty affidavit or the court made you pay a filing fee, you must do Service by Publication.

How do I request service by posting?
Ask the court if they have a fill-in-the-blank “Affidavit for Service by Posting.” If they do not, you must create your own. Title the document “Affidavit for Service by Posting” and state the same things you stated in the Affidavit for Service by Publication. You must ALSO write the last known address you have for the opposing party.

The Affidavit must be signed by you, notarized by a notary public, and filed with the Clerk of courts. You should not be required to pay any fees.

REMEMBER: The court will only allow you to do service by publication or posting if you have made efforts to locate the opposing party’s new address. You must explain in the affidavit for service by publication or posting exactly what you have done to try to locate the opposing party’s address.

For more information about representing yourself in court, see the Ohio State Bar Foundation Keys to the Courtroom brochure.


See also the Forms & Education tab in this section for more information.

The information in this site is not intended as legal advice.
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