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Respond to a Civil Summons & Complaint
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ANSWERING A COMPLAINT IN A CIVIL CASE: THE BASICS

By responding to a civil summons and complaint for debt collection, foreclosure and divorce, you avoid a default judgment and deny the plaintiff's allegations against you, thus protecting your legal rights. Answering a Civil Summons also preserves your jurisdictional defenses.


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Additional Articles of Interest

(a) Definition and Purpose of an Answer.


Simply stated, an answer is the defendant's pleading. In some courts and jurisdictions, a defendant is also known as a "respondent." The answer serves several purposes. First and foremost, by filing an answer, a defendant preserves his or her right to defend against the claims and allegations contained in the Complaint/Petition. In general, this is accomplished by:

  • Denying the Plaintiff's claims or assertions that are false; and
  • Raising "affirmative defenses" - defenses that are not mere denials but, rather, raise new matters that do not appear from the face of the complaint itself. For example, in some instances, a Plaintiff's complaint is filed too late, and thus may be barred by the applicable statute of limitations. In that instance, the Defendant would assert, as an affirmative defense, that the Complaint should be dismissed on that ground.

(b) Components of An Answer Form.


Although the specific requirements regarding the content of an answer form vary among different courts and jurisdictions, there are some requirements that are nearly universal. For example, the answer must always contain, at the top, the "caption" of this case. A caption is the heading, and it includes the name of the court, names of the parties, and docket or file number assigned to the case. The caption is typically followed by an introductory paragraph or sentence stating the identity of the party. The bulk of a typical answer consists of brief, individualized responses to the Complaint's allegations. This is accomplished through numbered paragraphs. There are three kinds of denials:

  • If a defendant knows first hand that a particular allegation is false, the denial may be stated outright as follows: "Defendant denies all of the allegations set forth in paragraph __ of the complaint;
  • If a defendant does not have first hand knowledge that a particular allegation is false, but he or she believes it to be false, the denial is "on information and belief";
  • If a defendant does not know whether or not an allegation is true or false, the denial simply alleges lack of information to form a belief as to the particular allegation.

After the denials, a defendant should set forth his or her affirmative defenses. The appropriate affirmative defenses will vary from case to case. Some of the more common affirmative defenses include: fraud; illegality; statute of limitations; and release.

In some instances, a defendant also asserts claims against the Plaintiff. These claims are set forth after the affirmative defenses and they are known as "counterclaims".

Answer forms, like other types of legal documents, can be confusing to non-lawyers because the language and style consists of what is sometimes referred to as "legal-ease". The language (some of it in latin) is new and confusing. For this reason, lay persons and lawyers alike frequently use model forms to prepare their answers. The answer forms on our site are state-specific, professionally prepared models, with the appropriate language and style based on the type of case and jurisdiction.
(c) The Importance of Filing An Answer: Avoiding Default


When a defendant has failed to answer the complaint, he or she is in default, and a judgment be default may be entered by a court clerk or judge. The time period for answering varies among different jurisdictions (and sometimes can vary based on the type of complaint or manner in which the complaint was served). In most instances, a defendant has between 20 to 30 days in which to respond to the complaint. Usually, the time period for answering is set forth on the summons.