“You’ve been served!” is a line from many popular movies you may have seen. A plot point featuring papers being served might involve an estranged couple fighting for child custody or a narcissistic business owner getting the justice he deserves. However, in real life, being served papers is not always fit for primetime TV. So what does it mean to be served papers? Here’s what happens:

Before You Get Served

You’re being served papers because someone is beginning a lawsuit against you. Whether or not you feel that this legal action is justified, being served papers is a notice that the legal proceedings are already on their way.

When You Get Served

Despite what you see on TV, a server does not actually have to say the words “you’ve been served”. They might, however, explain that they have legal papers for you without engaging in a discussion of the papers’ contents. Due to the fact that papers are often served in a face-to-face manner, the best thing you can do at this point is accept the papers. This is not the right time to start a confrontation with your server; in doing so you will likely only hurt your case.

After You Get Served

You’ve accepted the papers, so what happens next? That depends on what the papers say. They might state that you are being summoned to court, that you have been sued, that someone has filed a restraining order against you, or even that you are being subpoenaed (summoned) to appear in court as a witness to testify in a case.

As you can see, in real life, being served papers does not necessarily come as a surprise and it is not such a dramatic ordeal. However, it would be worth your while to familiarize yourself with the necessary legal jargon in order to understand what your next steps should be.