You have 30 days AFTER the date you are served to file a response with the court. The 30 days include weekend days, but not court holidays. If the last day falls on a day that the court is closed, you have until the next day that the court is open.
Only you can decide if it is in your best interests to respond to the lawsuit or not. It can be very helpful to get advice from a lawyer to decide if, and how, to respond.
If you do not respond
If you do not file a response within 30 days after you were served, the plaintiff can file a form called “Request for Default,” which means you have defaulted and can no longer respond to the lawsuit to defend yourself. If there is any part of the case you disagree with, or any amount of money you feel you do not owe, you will not be able to tell the court once you have defaulted.
After a default is entered the plaintiff can ask the court to enter a default judgment against you. The plaintiff can prove his or her case without you disputing what he or she says, and can win up to the amount that he or she asked for in the lawsuit against you.
Then the plaintiff can enforce the judgment against you. This can mean getting money from you by garnishing your paycheck, levying on your bank account, or putting a lien on your house or car. A judgment against you can also show up on your credit report.
You may want to respond when:
You may choose NOT to respond when:
You have no ability to pay and no defense to raise. In these cases, filing a response may result in you owing more money than the original debt. This happens because:
As you can see, whether to respond or not is a very complicated decision to make. The only way to make sure you do what is best for you in your particular situation is to talk to a lawyer. Some legal aid agencies or bar associations may have lawyers that can help you negotiate with the credit card company or bank and avoid going to court. Click for help finding a lawyer.
Once you decide you are going to respond to the lawsuit, remember, you MUST respond within 30 days from the date you were served with the lawsuit. And you need to decide how to respond since there are several ways you can:
1. You can file an answer or a general denial
2. You can file a motion
In certain situations, you can respond to the lawsuit by filing a motion (a request) that usually tells the court that the plaintiff made a mistake in the lawsuit. Some of the more common motions are:
Talk to a lawyer! A lawyer can answer any questions you may have about what type of response would be best in your case. Each type of response has different legal implications that could even hurt your case in the future, so it is very important you understand all the consequences to what you choose to file. Even if you cannot afford a lawyer to handle your whole case, you may be able to get a consultation for limited guidance on what your best strategy is. Click for help finding a lawyer.
If you decide to file a response, you must file it in the same courthouse where the lawsuit was filed. The address should be on the papers you were served by the plaintiff. Make sure you take your original plus at least 2 copies to the clerk’s office to file.
You will have to pay a filing fee to file your papers. If you cannot afford the filing fees, you can ask the court for a fee waiver. If the court approves your fee waiver request, you will not have to pay the fees. But if you win your lawsuit and collect costs from the other side, the court may ask you to pay back the waived fees.
Once you file your response to the plaintiff’s lawsuit, you must serve a copy on the plaintiff. You can also serve a copy of your response BEFORE you file the original with the court. Either way, make sure you file your response before the 30 days are up!
To serve the plaintiff with a copy of your response, have someone 18 or older (not you and not involved in the case), mail a copy to the plaintiff. If the plaintiff is represented by a lawyer, a copy of your response gets served on the lawyer. If the plaintiff is self-represented, it gets served on the plaintiff. The person who does this for you must fill out a proof of service by mail form. Then, make sure you file this proof of service form with the court and keep a copy for yourself.
If you have a claim against the plaintiff and you want the court to hear your claim, you have to file a cross-complaint against the plaintiff at the same time you file your answer. If you do not, you will waive your claim. This may also be true for claims against third parties if they are based on the same facts and circumstances as the lawsuit the plaintiff filed against you.
If you are adding new parties to the lawsuit, you will also need to complete a summons for the cross-complaint and have the new parties served with the summons and cross-complaint. You do not need a summons if the only persons you are suing are the ones who are suing you.