How to File an Answer


A process server might serve papers from the court on you or someone living at the home, indicating that a civil lawsuit has been filed against you because you stopped paying or owe money on an account. The papers might also be left on the door and mailed to you if the judge authorized it. You may be served a small claims lawsuit by certified mail. This is called service of process. The complaint will explain how much the creditor/plaintiff thinks you owe and might include the accounting ledger showing how that amount was calculated. You must file an answer to respond to the lawsuit, which either admits or denies the creditor's claims and the reasons why. 

Below is information that may be helpful to file an answer but it is not a substitute for legal advice. There are other rules and laws that may apply to your situation, but these are common rules and laws that apply in civil cases.

             
1  COMPLAINT AND SERVICE
  • In the complaint, the plaintiff makes statements forming the basis of the claims. Each statement is a separate paragraph and is called an allegation. 
              
2  REVIEW ALLEGATIONS
  • It is important that you read all of the documents and decide if you agree or disagree with the allegations or if you need more information. Everyone has the right to take their case to trial if they want to. (Note, however, the plaintiff/creditor may file a Motion for Summary Judgment. You will need to follow the instructions and respond in writing or you may have a judgment entered against you without a trial.)
  • If you agree you owe these amounts, you might consider trying to resolve the case without a trial by offering to make an agreement with the plaintiff/creditor before the time to file the answer has expired, or by doing so at the hearing set by the court.
  • If you do not agree you owe this creditor money or if you disagree with the amount, you will need to explain why in the answer that you file. 

  • WARNING: The losing party may be ordered to pay reasonable attorney's fees to the winning party.
              
3  ANSWER
  • The defendant has 20 calendar days from service of process to file an answer (AOCLJCV4F) to the lawsuit. An answer is your written response that you file with the court admitting or denying the creditor's claims and the reasons why. The answer should respond to each element of the complaint.
              
4  CONTACT INFORMATION & CAPTION
  • First, you need to provide contact information in the top left of the answer form. The court and plaintiff will mail important information to this address.
  • Then, complete the caption. The caption is the heading of the document that identifies the court, the parties, and the case number. All documents should have a title. In this case, it is an "answer." 
            
5  RESPOND TO ALLEGATIONS
  • You need to respond to each paragraph/allegation in the complaint. 
  • If you agree with the allegation, you should admit it in the answer. For example, you should write "Paragraph 1 is admitted."
  • If you disagree with the allegation, you should deny it. For example, you should write "Paragraph 2 is denied."
  • If you do not have enough information to decide whether you agree with the paragraph, you should state “Defendant is without information and belief and therefore denies Paragraph 3.”
  • Make sure to include one of the above statements for each allegation in the complaint.
  6  AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSES
  • If you have a reason or reasons why the plaintiff should not win, this is called an affirmative defense. You must include any affirmative defenses in your answer. 
  7  COUNTERCLAIM
  • If you have your own claim against the plaintiff, this is called a counterclaim. A counterclaim may be included in the answer or you can file it as a separate document (AOCLJCV5F). When you write it, it should be in paragraph form.
  8  PRAYER FOR RELIEF
  • You must include a statement as to what you want the court to do, such as asking the court to dismiss the case. This is called a prayer for relief.
  9  FILING AN ANSWER
  • Once all this information has been included in the answer, you must sign it and file it with the Clerk of the Court's office for Superior Court cases or at the Justice Court for justice and small claims cases. 
  • Filing an answer will give you an opportunity to defend your case in court and start the timelines for filing disclosures. Watch A Creditor Filed a Lawsuit Against Me or go to the webpage.
  • You will be required to pay a filing fee when filing an answer. If you cannot afford the filing fee, you can ask the clerk for a fee waiver/deferral application.

  • WARNING: If you fail to file a written answer, you may not get your day in court and the judge will likely enter a default judgment against you.
  10  CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
  • You must send a copy of your paperwork to the other parties and their attorney and include a statement below your signature that you have done so. This is called a certificate of service.

  • WARNING: All documents filed with the court must also be provided to the other party and their attorney.

  • Make sure to watch for important papers and contact the court if you do not receive notices.