So, let's say my last physical address on record happens to be the last place I worked. Since then, let's say I've been homeless. So, my debtors might eventually sue me in court, however, I'm unable to show up since I know nothing of it being homeless which leads to a default judgment. Then there's a summons to court for the "Asset hearing"; if you're homeless, can you actually be served? If you can't be served, then can you get charged with 'failure to appear' which shows up in police records? I.e., does anything show up in police records if you're homeless and de facto completely separated from the legal system, and cannot participate at all because you're not ever properly served? Can the police do the serving if they find and identify you, or can they alert the courts to get the process server after detaining you? I.e., do the police know that a process server is looking for you? (I.e., let's say they identify you after busting you for doing crack in the streets.)

For all intents and purposes, let's say you're like that one guy who went to live in the woods? Can the park ranger detain you, identify you and bring you to the process server because somehow they know you're being looked for?

  • I don't believe any civil process can move against you if you can't be served with notice. And I'm not aware of any mechanism whereby a bench warrant would be issued to start a civil proceeding. So AFAIK there's no way a court would issue a default judgement and there's no way police would be alerted to the fact, or even care that, somebody is trying to serve you with notice. But I'm not certain of any of these assertions to looking forward to authoritative answers!
    – feetwet
    Jun 12, 2016 at 12:37
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Service_of_process is good reading and might help you focus your question. For instance, see the section on "personal service", where the server must physically hand the papers to the person served. That would be a perfectly feasible way to serve a homeless person, though of course they might be a little harder to find than someone with a fixed address. Other options (substitute service, service by mail, etc) might or might not be possible, depending on the type of case and the jurisdiction. Jun 12, 2016 at 17:09
  • 1
    See also the section on "service by publication", which could apply if it can be shown the party is actively trying to avoid being served. Jun 12, 2016 at 17:11
  • Just found out that it becomes a matter of skip-tracing at that point, where private investigators are on the trail to hunt you down (So they can serve you papers, lol.). If you're homeless, they may or may not find you, I suppose it depends on how removed you've become and how much you distance yourself from your previous life. It seems like anything involving the police (tickets, arrests, etc.), electronic payments(Credit/debit cards,etc.), the state (licenses and registration, especially vehicular.), and accounts with your name on it (Frequent flier miles,utilities,phone) are hot leads. Jun 12, 2016 at 17:15
  • @Nate, I read in Illinois anyway, that service by publication only is available to 'small cases'. Jun 12, 2016 at 17:19

1 Answer 1


It depends on a lot of things, including the type of suit and the state. But this would be outlined in the court's civil procedure rules of that state.

For example, Mississippi's Rule of Civil Procedure 4 states that if the defendant cannot be found after "diligent inquiry", then the plaintiff may file an affidavit and serve by publication.

At that point, failure to appear could result in a default judgment.

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