Have you seen the headlines? Olivia Wilde, the actress we know from House, was served with custody papers by her ex, Jason Sudeikis (you know, Ted Lasso?) while she was on stage presenting at the CinemaCon Convention. A woman walked up to the stage and handed her an unmarked envelope. She picked it up, asked “what is this? A script?”, and then realized it was custody paperwork file to establish jurisdiction for their ongoing legal dispute.

Can you imagine? Being served something so personal in front of thousands of people. How embarrassing! Could that happen to you? What if someone serves you at work? Or at home in front of your kids? What is are the rules of “service” anyway?

“Service” is the method by which filed legal documents are presented to the other party. It is important to “serve” the other party so that you can prove that he/she received the documents and the lawsuit can move forward. In North Carolina, there are certain rules regarding service and how it can be achieved.

Typically, lawyers first start by asking that party to accept service by signing a special form. This is the easiest, most unobtrusive way of being served, and many people agree to it. Other typical, easier ways of serving your lawsuit is via Certified U.S. Mail or signatured-required UPS or FedEx delivery. If those options don’t work, the next step is to go through your county’s Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriff’s Department will attempt service 3 times, generally by going to the other person’s home or workplace, for a nominal fee – as you can imagine, it can be unnerving to have a Sheriff show up at your door.

If none of these options work, our North Carolina rules allow for a private process server (usually someone who is also a private investigator) to track the person down and serve them. This is likely who served Olivia Wilde. The private process server looks like you and me – they are discreet and useful when the person you’re trying to serve is attempting to avoid service. A private process server charges by the hour, so depending on how difficult it is to serve the other party, this can be a pricey option.

If you’re unsuccessful in trying all of the other options to serve the other party, our rules allow you to serve via publication in a local newspaper. There are certain requirements for what paper to use, how the ad in the paper should read, and how long it must run. If you’re going this route, it’s best to use a lawyer to ensure you’re taking all of the required steps.

While there are certainly reasons to avoid being served, talk to a lawyer before ending up embarrassed in front of thousands like Olivia Wilde. The attorneys are Marcellino & Tyson, PLLC can help guide you as it relates to service and all other aspects of your legal needs.

Written by Attorney Jennifer Moore