Service by publication is defined when notice of a lawsuit against a defendant is done by publishing a notice with an advertisement in a newspaper of general circulation. Service by publication is the weakest way to serve notice of a lawsuit, because nobody gets personally served. Although almost made obsolete by the internet because of the decline of newspapers; in most states, lawsuits can sometimes be served by publication.
This article is my opinion, and not legal advice. I am a judgment referral expert, and am not a lawyer. If you ever need any legal advice or a strategy to use, please contact a lawyer.
Service by publication is used to give “constructive notice” to a defendant who is intentionally absent, hiding, or not fully known. Usually, a judge’s order is required; when on a sworn declaration of the inability to serve the defendant after “due diligence” (trying hard to serve the defendant conventionally) is demonstrated (proven) to the court.
Sometimes service by publication can be used in a divorce action to serve a spouse that has disappeared without a leaving a forwarding address, or to give notice to people who might have a right to object to a “quiet title” action to get clear title to real estate property.
When a default judgment was served by publication only, it is very easy for the judgment debtor to later claim they never got notice of the lawsuit, and then vacate (overturn) the judgment against them.
When a judgment debtor is served by publication, they usually never show up in court, so the judgment will be by default. Before a default judgment (especially if it was served by publication) is enforced, the creditor should consider having something personally served on the debtor first.
In California, six months after any post-judgment document is personally served on the judgment debtor; that debtor will not be able to successfully claim they did not know about the judgment against them.
Service by publication is usually a last-resort effort. Creditors should try hard to have their defendants (or in some cases, someone else living or working at the same address as the debtor) personally served.
The strongest lawsuits and judgments require personal service on the defendant. The next best type of service is sub-service on someone else living or working with the defendant, next is service by registered mail on the defendant; and once again, service by publication is the weakest type of lawsuit service.