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What is a motion for substituted/alternative service?

Updated August 30th 2022

4 min read

A motion for substituted/alternative service is a request to the Court to give you permission to serve the defendant using methods other than personal service. Learn how this can help your case.

What is a motion for substituted/alternative service?

What is a motion for substituted/alternative service?

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Alex Dyvig

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Dispute is the easiest & most accurate small claims platform with affordable ways to resolve every dispute.

Why do I need a Motion for Substituted/Alternative Service?

Occasionally, you may have exhausted every reasonable effort to serve the defendant but still fall short of serving them personally. Luckily, the Court has several alternative methods of service for defendants that are difficult to locate. These alternative, or substituted service methods can include:

  • Serving a co-occupant at the defendant's last known address
  • Publishing a notice in a newspaper
  • Physically posting a copy to the door of the defendant's last known address.
  • First class and/or certified mail
  • Electronic posting of a copy to the Court's website

Before you can use these alternative, or substituted service methods, however, you must obtain permission from the Court in most states in the US. This is where a Motion for Substituted/Alternative Service comes in. This motion states, under penalty of perjury, 1) the steps you have taken to locate the other party, 2) the reason why you should be granted permission to use substituted service, and 3) which method of substituted service you request. The Court may deny your motion if they find your information unsatisfactory, requiring you to make further attempts to serve the other party personally.

How to Prepare and Request a Motion for Substituted/Alternative Service:

A motion is simply a written request or proposal to the Court to obtain the Court’s permission to do something you requested. Follow these steps to prepare your Motion for Substituted/Alternative Service:

1. Get an Affidavit of Non-Service

If your private process server or sheriff has made attempts to serve but failed, the first thing to do is ask them for an Affidavit of Non-Service. This will show the Court all the attempts you have made to serve the defendant.

2. Make a Reasonable Effort to Locate Another Address for the Defendant

In order for the Court to grant you permission, you must show that you have made but exhausted all reasonable efforts to locate the defendant. Some common methods for locating a defendant's address include:

  1. Request Address Information from the United States Postal Service
    1. Request Form Link
  2. Purchase a Skip Trace
  3. Check Social Media
  4. DMV Record Request
    1. Request forms vary by state
  5. Hire a Private Investigator

If you find a new, valid address, you must attempt to serve it before requesting a Motion for Substituted/Alternative Service. Remember to document your efforts here - your attempts to locate and serve a new address shows the Court that you have done your due diligence.

3. Draft and File Your Motion

A motion application to a court usually includes two things: (1) the motion requesting the relief/action and; (2) an order that the Judge signs if your motion request is approved.

Step 1. To draft your motion, check your courthouse's website or google “[your state] motion for substituted/alternative service form,” and usually, a reliable template can be found.

Step 2. As part of your motion, include (1) documentation of your service and research efforts and (2) what form of substituted/alternative service you'd like to request. Be sure to research which options are permitted by your state, some examples of substituted/alternative service include:

  • Serving a co-occupant at the defendant's last known address
  • Publishing a notice in a newspaper
  • Physically posting a copy to the door of the defendant's last known address.
  • First class and/or certified mail
  • Electronic posting of a copy to the Court's website

Step 3. File your motion with the court by in-person filing, mailing, or e-filing (if available).


File your motion using Dispute

If you filed your claim through Dispute, you can also use us to file your motion.

All you need to do is prepare the following documents and upload them to your Dashboard:

  • A filled-out motion for substituted/alternative service template
  • An Affidavit of Non-Service
  • Documentation of your address search efforts

Further Reading:

Please remember that the requirements for requesting substituted/alternative service vary from state to state. This is a generic guide, and it was not specifically written to conform to your state's laws and requirements. No outcome is guaranteed, and everything is ultimately left to the discretion of the judge. This article was written to provide legal information; nothing within this article should be construed as legal advice.

Serve the other party with Dispute today. Get back the money you deserve.

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