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After the plaintiff files a claim with the small claims clerk, he or she must deliver a copy of the claim to each defendant. This is called service of process, and no lawsuit is complete without it. The reason you must serve the other side is obvious: Defendants in a case need to know about any claims against them and must be notified of the day, time, and place that they can show up to defend themselves. In addition, any defendant who files a defendant's claim against a plaintiff must serve copies of that claim on all plaintiffs in the case. Service of process rules also apply if you need to deliver a subpoena to a witness. (See Chapter 14.)

Check to be sure your papers were served. Never show up in court on the day of the court hearing on the assumption that your certified mail service has been accomplished. If the defendant didn't sign for the paper, you will be wasting your time. Call the court clerk a couple of days in advance and verify that the service of process has been completed. This means the certified letter has been signed for by the defendant, not by someone else at the address.

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