If you are served with legal papers, it may be tempting to ignore them, or to procrastinate. However, doing so can result in a judgment entered against you. Whether the judgment is financial (you must pay money), or affects your life in other ways (a lien on property, a change in visitation of children, a judgment about who owns real estate), you may later be very regretful that you didn’t protect your rights when you had the chance.
So when should your answer be filed? What information must your answer contain? How and where should it be filed? Who should file it, you or your attorney? The answers to these questions will vary depending on whether the case is filed in Justice Court, District or County Court, and whether the case is filed in state or federal court. You also may have a “complaint” or other legal proceeding filed against you which will be decided by a governmental agency, rather than a court. It is just as important to take these seriously.
And don’t think that you can ignore the situation if you don’t see a uniformed constable serving you. Real life is different than television. You can be served/notified by private process server or other acceptable person, by certified mail (even if you choose not to pick it up), and, in some cases, by “other methods”, such as another person accepting service for you, someone posting the complaint in a proper location, or even by publication in a newspaper.
We have had potential clients come to us after a judgment has already been entered against them and we have asked them, “Why didn’t we see you sooner?” Some of the answers we have heard: “I thought my spouse (or business partner) was taking care of it.” “I knew I wasn’t at fault.” “I don’t have anything worth anything anyway.””I didn’t understand the paperwork.” “I didn’t think they would really go through with it.” “I thought I had 30 days to answer it” (Justice Court cases have a much shorter answer time.)
I always have a sinking feeling when I have to tell a client “if only you’d come in sooner!” Do yourself a favor; if you get served with a lawsuit, summons or complaint, make sure that you take care of it promptly and get advice from an attorney. Don’t ignore it! It’s worth 30 minutes of your time to have a legal consultation and avoid later problems.