What is "Notice" and How Is It Done?


When you file a case in court, you have to give the other person(s) notice. Here is some information on what notice is and how it can be done.

What is notice?

  • Notice is the process of giving court papers to the person(s) you are suing. This lets them know a case has been filed against them.
  • After you file a lawsuit, you must give notice to the other person by sending the original notice and petition to them.
  • Delivery of legal papers to the other person in the case is called service.
  • Different types of cases may require different methods of service.
  • Your case will not move forward until the other person in the case is served with the legal papers.

What happens if I do not give notice?

  • Your case will not be heard by the court.
  • Eventually, without proper service the court will dismiss the case.

What are the different options for giving legal notice?
There are generally four different ways you can give legal notice:

  • Personal delivery - signed acceptance of service by the person receiving legal papers,
  • Personal service by the sheriff or a process server,
  • Notice by publication, or
  • Notice by certified mail. Depending on the type of case, may be done in combination with other types of notice such as mail and posting on a door.

When can I use "acceptance of service?"

  • Acceptance of service happens when you deliver the "Original Notice" and "Petition" to the other person and he/she signs a paper that tells the court he/she received the notice from you. Then, the acceptance is filed with the court.
  • This is usually done when you are in agreement or cooperation with the other person, for example a divorce where both parties agree they want a divorce.
    • Advantages:
      • Fast, and
      • Free.
    • Disadvantage:
      • Requires cooperation.

When do I use "personal service?"

  • Personal service happens when you give your "Original Notice" and "Petition" to the sheriff's office or to a private process serving company to deliver the notice for you.
  • This is the most common way to serve notice of a lawsuit.
  • The sheriff's office or a licensed process server gives the papers to the other party.
  • You cannot personally serve these papers. The Court wants someone not involved in the case serving the papers.
  • The sheriff's office or the process server then has to file a notice telling the court what happened when the papers were served, either:
    • The person received notice, or
    • The person was not located.
    • Advantage:
      • Works in almost any situation.
    • Disadvantages:
      • Costs money, and
      • Need to know where the other person lives.

When do I use "notice by publication?"

  • Notice by publication can be used when you have tried to have the other person served and cannot complete service. The court has to review your case and decide whether to allow you to publish notice in the newspaper to complete service to the other person.
  • To do this, you pay for the notice to be published once a week for three weeks in the "Legal Notices" section of a local newspaper.
  • There are some kinds of cases where service by publication is not allowed.
    • Advantage:
      • Useful when you don't know where the other person lives.
    • Disadvantages:
      • Cannot be used in every case,
      • Have to try serving the other person by one of the other methods first,
      • Must apply to get the court's permission before using this kind of service, and
      • Fee to run the notice in the newspaper.

When do I use "notice by certified mail?"

  • In some small claims cases, one option of service is sending the papers to the other person by certified mail.
  • Certified mail is a method of mailing that provides the sender with proof the other person received the papers sent.
  • There are some kinds of cases where service by certified mail is not allowed. Service by certified mail is not allowed in eviction hearings.
    • Advantage:
      • Certified mail costs less than other methods of service.
    • Disadvantage:
      • You can only use certified mail as notice in some types of small claims cases, primarily money judgment cases. Certified mail alone is insufficient for service in eviction cases.

Legal Terms:

  • "Original Notice" is a standard form that tells the other person a lawsuit has been filed against him or her. It advises people of their right to appear in the case.
  • "Petition" is the document you file with the clerk of court's office to begin a lawsuit.

Where can I go for help with my case?

  • If you get court papers and need legal advice, you should talk to a lawyer.
  • Iowa Legal Aid provides free legal help to clients eligible for services.
  • Assistance is provided to low-income Iowans facing legal problems involving basic necessities, fundamental rights and safety.
  • Special projects help meet legal needs of people including seniors and persons facing foreclosure, tax controversies or health care problems with underlying legal issues.
  • Help is only available with certain types of civil cases.
  • To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid, call 1-800-532-1275 (se habla español).
  • Iowa Legal Aid's website has information at iowalegalaid.org.
  • If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, you may find an attorney on "Find a Lawyer" on the Iowa State Bar Association website at www.iowafindalawyer.com
  • A lawyer from Find-A-Lawyer will talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes. Beyond that, you must work out an agreement with the attorney.

Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 

To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:

  • Call 800-532-1275. 
  • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
  • Apply online at iowalegalaid.org

If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer”   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.

*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.

Last Review and Update: Jan 04, 2022
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