Completing service of process if you don't know where the defendant lives

Find out how to deliver papers to a person if you don't know where they live.

District, Housing, and Boston Municipal Courts

The Details of Completing service of process if you don't know where the defendant lives

What you need for Completing service of process if you don't know where the defendant lives

First have the sheriff or constable try to serve the defendant at the last address you know the defendant lived or worked. If the sheriff or constable’s Return of Service says that the defendant or his/her current home address was not found after a diligent search, then you can ask the court for an “order of notice”, which is the court’s approval to notify the defendant of the lawsuit by some other manner, such as by publication in a newspaper. There is usually a fee charged to publish a legal notice in a newspaper.  

Ask the court for an order for notice by publication:

  • Ask the Clerk’s Office at the court where your case is filed what form you should use and whether they have a sample form you can look at. This form is usually called a “Motion for Alternative Service” or a “Motion for Service by Publication”.  
  • After you prepare the motion, attach your Affidavit (a written statement that you sign under the pains and penalties of perjury) to the motion. In your Affidavit, write that you do not know where the defendant lives, provide the last known address that you have for the defendant, and describe what you did to try to find and serve the defendant.

How to submit Completing service of process if you don't know where the defendant lives

Mail the motion and your Affidavit to the Clerk’s Office of the court where your case is filed.

Deliver the papers in person to the Clerk’s Office of the court where your case is filed. Ask the Clerk’s Office whether you will need to appear before a judge to present your motion, or if you will be notified of the judge’s decision by mail.  

Next steps for Completing service of process if you don't know where the defendant lives

  1. If your motion is approved

    If the judge approves your motion, you will receive an order from the court.

    The order will tell you:

    • the wording of the notice
    • which newspaper to publish the notice in
    • when to publish the motion 
  2. Publishing the notice

    Take the notice to the legal notice department of the newspaper. You will need to pay a fee to have the notice published in the newspaper.

  3. After the notice is published

    Once the notice is published in the newspaper, get a copy of the entire page from the newspaper and file it with the court to prove the notice was published. The defendant will then have a period of time to respond to the court.

Contact for Completing service of process if you don't know where the defendant lives

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