The Rules of Civil Procedure and the Local Rules tell you exactly what the process is for conducting a lawsuit. Be sure to study the Rules before you file a case, or before you respond.
All of these procedures are governed by the Rules of Civil Procedure.
A lawsuit begins when a "Complaint for ..." or a "Petition for ..." is filed. Click here for more information about how a lawsuit proceeds.
The person who files the lawsuit is called the “Plaintiff” if they filed a Complaint or the “Petitioner” if they filed a Petition.
The person it is filed against is called the “Defendant” if a Complaint was filed, and a “Respondent” if a Petition is filed.
After the Complaint or Petition is filed, the Plaintiff/Petitioner has to "serve" the Complaint or Petition on the Defendant/Respondent. "Service" is the procedure used to make sure that the person being sued knows about the suit.
When service is complete, that is, when the Defendant/Respondent has a copy of the Complaint/Petition, then the Defendant/Respondent has 30 days to file an "Answer".
Answers are very basic.
Lawsuits are built around proving statements to be true or false, and then applying the law to them. If both parties agree that a statement is true, then it does not need to be proved further. If the parties do not agree that a statement is true, the lawsuit will continue on the disputed allegations.
The Complaint/Petition is arranged by numbered paragraphs. The statements in the numbered paragraphs are called “allegations”, because they haven’t yet been agreed or proved to be true. Each separate allegation should have its own numbered paragraph.
A proper Answer responds to each numbered paragraph in the Complaint/Petition using the same number. It’s very important to answer every numbered paragraph in the Complaint/Petition.
The response for each numbered paragraph is that the Defendant/Respondent either admits, denies, or doesn't know the truth about the allegations.
If the Defendant/Respondent admits the allegations in a paragraph, they agree that the allegations are true, and so the allegations in that paragraph don’t need further proof. This is not the same as admitting guilt in a criminal case! In an Answer, “admit” just means “agree”.
If the Defendant/Respondent denies the allegations in a paragraph, they disagree that the statement is true, and the allegation must be either proved or disproved.
If the Defendant/Respondent doesn’t know if an allegation is true, they say that, and the allegation must be either proved or disproved.
So, for instance, paragraph 3 of Form 4A-103, Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, says:
“3. The parties were married on ___ (date) in ___ (city), ____ (state), and have remained spouses since that date.” That statement is an “allegation” – a statement to the court that so far is not proved to be true.
To answer paragraph 3, if the Respondent agrees that the information in the blanks is correct, s/he will write in the Answer: “Respondent admits the allegations contained in paragraph 3.”
If the Respondent does not agree that the information is correct, s/he will write:
“Respondent denies the allegations contained in paragraph 3.”
If the Respondent doesn’t know if the information is correct, s/he will write:
“Respondent does not have sufficient information to admit or deny the allegations of paragraph 3, and therefore denies them.”
After you’ve answered all the numbered paragraphs, you respond to whatever it is that the Complaint/Petition says at the very end that it wants the court to do. For instance, in a divorce petition, if the Petitioner has asked the court to grant him/her sole custody of the children, or spousal support (alimony), and the Respondent wants joint custody and doesn’t think s/he should have to pay spousal support, this is the place to say that. You can do this in a new section called “Counterclaims”.
If you want to give your side of whatever allegations the Plaintiff/Petitioner made, you can add a section called “Affirmative Defenses”. For instance, in a breach of contract case, if the Plaintiff has alleged that the Defendant didn’t do what the contract required, an “Affirmative Defense” might be that the Plaintiff did something that prevented the Defendant from performing under the contract.
For divorce cases, you should use Form 4A-104, Response
The information on this website is not intended as legal advice, and does not substitute for seeking independent legal advice regarding the handling of a lawsuit or related legal matters.