Alabama Debt Collection Lawsuit Questions — Part Two — What Does Being Served Mean?

(You can find part one of this frequently asked question series on debt collection lawsuits here).

If you want to watch the entire video (over two hours and answering more than 150 questions), you can find it here on our Youtube channel.


Alabama Debt Collection Lawsuit Questions — Part Two — What Does Being Served Mean?“What does being served mean?”

Being served simply means that under the definition of the law, you are now required to respond to the lawsuit.

You’ve been handed the lawsuit papers either directly or they have been given to an adult who lives with you or you have been served by certified mail.

You’ve been properly served and now the clock starts running on how long you have to respond to that lawsuit.


“Will a sheriff’s deputy really serve me?” 

Yes, they will.

It is quite common for a sheriff’s deputy to come up and say, “Hey, I’ve got some legal papers for you, some lawsuit papers. Here you go.”

At this point, you have been served and the time to respond to the lawsuit begins.


“What about a non-law-enforcement person –– can they serve me?” 


This is what’s often called a “private process server.”

Could be a private investigator. Could just be somebody that all they do is serve lawsuits. Or maybe they serve subpoenas. But yes. As long as they meet the requirements under the law, then they can serve you. And that is officially being served.

Again, being served means the clock starts running on you to respond to the lawsuit.


“Can the process server really leave the lawsuit with an adult who lives with me and that counts as being served?” 


Now, it has to be an adult or responsible person who lives with you. Not your next-door neighbor who is out cutting his grass and they hand it to your next-door neighbor, or somebody that’s visiting you for a few days.

The person the server hands the papers to must live with you. That’s the key.

And they have to be competent mentally.

If this has all occurred, then leaving the lawsuit papers with an adult in your house can cause the clock to start running on your time to respond.


“How does certified mail work when I’m being served?” 

If you are home, the mailman or mail lady will hand you the letter and you’ll sign a card acknowledging receipt of it.

If you are not home, there will be a note in your box for you to get the letter. And then you go to the post office or the mail person brings it to you, and you sign for it, and then now you have officially received that envelope that has the lawsuit papers in it.

This is a “real service” and it starts the clock running on responding to the lawsuit.


“Should I avoid the service?” 

“Should I try to avoid the service? So if I see the sheriff’s deputy, should I take off running?”

I had somebody call me one time and they were hiding in their closet as the sheriff’s deputy was knocking on their door, and they were asking me, “I’m just going to not answer the door. Is that a good idea?”

I said, “No. My suggestion is do not avoid the service.”

If somebody’s trying to hand you the papers, don’t jump in your car and race off down the road and don’t pretend you’re not at home.

Obviously, be safe. Some stranger at 10:00 at night is knocking on your door, you’re not obligated to go open the door. So be safe, but I would not avoid the service. If they’re trying to serve you, just accept it and then get on with what you need to do with this lawsuit.

Otherwise, you’re always going to be looking over your shoulder wondering if they’re about to serve you, they’re going to take it to somebody that lives with you, they’re going to show up at your job or your school, and just embarrass you terribly. So I would not to try to avoid the service.

Face it head on and then respond to the lawsuit.


“Once I’m served, what are the deadlines I have to meet?”

Here’s the big picture.

Once you’re served, if you were sued in small claims court you have 14 days to respond.

If you were sued in district court you also have 14 days.

And if you were sued in circuit court you have 30 days from when you were served.

Mark your deadline down on your calendar as it is mission critical to keep in mind.


“What if I don’t file my answer in time –– will the collector get a default judgment against me?”

The answer is almost 100% of the time, yes.

Now let me give you a little bit of background. So you’ve got 14 days from when you were served if you’re in district or small claims, 30 days in circuit court.

If you go beyond that time, some of these collection lawyers will nail you the very next day with the default judgment. Some of them will give a little more time, just to make sure that you haven’t responded.

Bottom line is if you do not answer in time, you should be expecting a default judgment, and usually immediately after you go past the deadline.


“Should I use a debt settlement company or an out of state law firm to handle the lawsuit for me?”

So you’ve been served, you’re wondering what to do as maybe you’re working with some debt settlement company or you run across an out-of-state law firm that has nobody licensed in Alabama. Should you hire those guys to handle the lawsuit? I’ll tell you, this is almost always a complete disaster. So these debt settlement companies, a lot of them are scam companies. They’ll say, “Hey, you stop paying everybody, you just pay us money, and we’ll make it all go away.”

And then when you get sued, they want you to continue to pay them money. It’s like, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. We’ll take care of it. We’ll work on it. We’ve got a lawyer that will handle this.”

And they don’t because they want to keep getting your payments. Remember what happens if you do not answer in time, there’s a default judgment against you.

What can an out-of-state law firm do for you?

Nothing. They can’t file an answer for you in Alabama unless they have a licensed Alabama lawyer.

So if you hire a debt settlement company, if you hire a lawyer that’s not licensed here, it’s just a disaster.

You have much better options than that. We will talk in the next section about your five (5) options.

Almost any option would be better than a debt settlement company or an out of state law firm because virtually everybody I see who uses a debt settlement company when they’ve been sued, or they use some law firm that has no Alabama lawyer, they end up with a default judgment.

And then these companies say, “Hey, good luck with that but we can’t help you.” Of course, at this point, they won’t answer your calls anymore.

So you not only wasted your money but now you have a default judgment against you.

Let’s not do this – instead, pick one of your five legitimate options from the next section.


Coming up next — your five options after being served

We will pick up with part three in our next article in this series — your five options when sued.

Thank you for reading this and I hope these questions — and answers — are helpful to you.

Feel free to call us if you have a question about a collection lawsuit in Alabama — you can call us at 205-879-2447 or fill out our contact form and we’ll email or call you right back.

Look forward to talking to you soon!

John Watts

PS — You may also want to get our checklist to use when you have been sued by a debt collector in Alabama — it is free for you to download.


  1. Gerald DISanza says:

    I have just got served papers today what’s my opinion?

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