• Service of process is the procedure for giving notice of lawsuit, and is required by Florida law
  • Only process servers can deliver process in Florida, and licensing requirements vary by each county
  • Florida requires specific procedures for serving process; failure to follow these procedures can invalidate service


Service of “process” dates all the way back to 1215 A.D., when England’s Magna Carta implemented ‘Due Process’ requirements – i.e. fair treatment under law. Since that time, many complex procedures and requirements have developed for service of process. However, for this article, we will focus on just Florida and the current requirements.  

Service is Effective Notice Required by Law

Service of process is the procedure for one party to a lawsuit to give appropriate notice of legal action to another party (such as a defendant). The most common method of process is personal delivery of court documents to the party to be served. Process is typically only required at the start of litigation by delivering a copy of the summons and complaint. However, some other documents, such as subpoenas, must also be delivered in the same manner.

Service of process is important to the legal system because it informs a person that their individual rights may be affected by a pending lawsuit. With this notice, they can choose to participate in the lawsuit and protect their legal interests if need be.

Only Certain People can Serve in Certain Counties

In Florida, service of process is required by Chapter 48, Florida Statues. This statute gives the sheriff of the county responsibility for serving process. § 48.021, Fla. Stat. However, it allows (but does not require) “non-enforceable civil process” to be served by a special process server appointed by the sheriff or a certified process server appointed by a judge. §§ 48.021; 48.27, Fla. Stat.

Each of Florida’s 67 counties has its own requirements for service of process, and there is no statewide license. 9 counties require appointment by the sheriff. 40 counties require court certification. Only 14 don’t have a server program and require a motion to appoint a server other than the sheriff.

Special process servers must apply for appointment, submit to a background check, take a state exam, and swear to their duties. Their appointment is only good for the county where it was issued. § 48.021. Certified process servers are appointed by the chief judge (§ 48.27) and requirements are substantially similar, except that certified servers must also post a bond, § 48.29. All special and certified process servers will carry a current ID card. Id.  

Servers Must Strictly Adhere to Statutory Requirements

The requirements to affect service of process are also prescribed by statute. See generally, § 48.21. Upon completion of service, the server must prepare a Return of Service (ROS) indicating: (1) the date and time the documents ‘came to hand’; (2) the date and time of service; (3) the manner of service; (4) the name of the person served; and (5) the position occupied by the person, if served in a representative capacity. Id. A complaint must be served on a defendant within 120 days of its filing. Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.070(j).

The ROS must list all documents served and must be signed by the server (electronically or otherwise). § 48.21. The ROS must be drafted (and preferably filed) before a defendant’s time to respond to the complaint expires (typically 20 days). Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.070.   Additionally, when delivering documents, the server must place the date and hour of service on the document served and endorse the document with its initials and license number. Id.  When serving a court order, a certifiedcopy of the order must be delivered. Id. Service cannot be made on a Sunday. § 48.20. A server’s failure to include the facts required by statute in a ROS invalidates the service. As such, it is critical to ensure the server strictly complies with the statutory requirements.

Bringing it All Together

Service of process is legally required to give someone notice of a lawsuit or pending legal action. While there are state-wide requirements for service of process in Florida, individual counties get to decide who can serve process. Florida has prescribed procedures for serving process, which, if not followed, can invalidate the service of process. As such, it is critical that process servers closely abide by each of these requirements.

If you are looking for a qualified process server in Jacksonville or have any questions, Palma Process Servers is standing by to deliver your documents.

Authors Note: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.