I received a copy of a complaint filed against me. What do I do?
If you are served with a complaint and summons, it will tell you that you need to answer within a certain amount of time. The person who started the court action is called the “plaintiff,” and the person who is responding is the “defendant.” An “answer” is a document you write to tell your side of the story to the plaintiff and to the court.
Read your summons carefully; it will tell you how much time you have to answer.You should file an answer in court to the complaint within 20 days of receiving the summons and complaint or 7 days if it is a Complaint for Contempt. Be sure you get your answer to the plaintiff and the court by that deadline.
What form do I use?
Make sure the answer form is the correct one for the complaint. For example, if the complaint is a Complaint for Divorce, make sure you complete the Answer to Complaint for Divorce . If there is no form for your action, you may write it yourself. You will need to have the complaint with you when you write the answer, because a lot of the information you need will be in the complaint.
What do I write in my answer?
The answer must include the following:
This is the information at the top of the page. If you are using a court form, fill out this section. If you are writing your own answer, it should include:
- The name of the court. In this case, that is Probate and Family Court.
- The division of the court. This means the county where the complaint was filed. The complaint will tell you what division it is in.
- The docket number.
- The plaintiff’s name. This is the person who filed the complaint.
- The defendant’s name. This is you.
If you use a court form for an answer, this is provided for you. If you are writing it yourself, you need to provide a title. Look at the complaint and see what it is called, and then begin with “Answer to”. For example, if the complaint says “Complaint for Modification,” your title will be “Answer to Complaint for Modification.”
This is the list of answers to the statements in the complaint. You will see that each answer to a complaint has the same number of paragraphs as the corresponding complaint. Type or clearly print your answer.
If you use the court form and:
- you agree with the information written by the plaintiff in a paragraph in the complaint, check off the box that you “admit” the allegations in that paragraph; or
- you do not agree or do not know if the information is correct, check the box that you “deny or do not know” the allegations in that paragraph; or
- you agree with part of what plaintiff wrote in a paragraph and disagree with or don’t know part of what he/she wrote, choose the box that you admit part but deny or don’t know part, and specifically write what you admit and what you deny or do not know.
The last paragraph of the complaint usually begins, “Wherefore plaintiff requests that this Court…” and then says what it is the plaintiff wants the Court to decide or do. In the last paragraph on the answer form, you have a few choices of what you can ask the Court to do. If you use the court form answer, and:
- you agree with what the plaintiff is asking for, check the box, “grant the…”; or
- you want the Court to deny plaintiff’s requests, check off the box, “deny relief requested…”; or
- you want the Court to make other orders, check the boxes, “dismiss the complaint…” and “grant the relief requested in the attached counterclaim…” Information about a counterclaim is available at Counterclaims in Probate and Family Court.
If you are writing your own answer, follow the same pattern. When you write your answer, you will use the same numbers to write your answers. For each statement, your answer will say whether you agree with the statement (admit), disagree (deny), or don’t know about it.
Write the date, sign your name on the answer, and print your name, address, and telephone number under your signature.
Certificate of Service
The court needs to know that you delivered the Answer to the plaintiff. A “Certificate of Service” is a section at the end of your Answer that tells the court when and how you delivered the Answer to the plaintiff.
If you are using the court form, fill out this section.
If you are writing it yourself, add this section. At the end of your Answer, write a new title in the middle of the page that says “Certificate of Service.” Write a sentence or two to explain how you sent the Answer to the plaintiff. You should include your name, the name of the person to whom you sent the answer, when you sent it, how you sent it (Certified Mail, First Class Mail, hand-delivered, etc.) and the address you sent it to. Sign and date the Certificate of Service section. Make a copy of the Answer with the Certificate of Service.
Sign your name on the Certificate of Service. Remember to write the docket number on the top of each page.
What do I do with my answer when I have finished writing it?
File the original signed answer in the Registry of Probate. Court staff will place it in the numbered file folder with the plaintiff’s complaint and any other documents filed in the case. There is no fee to file an answer.
Next, give a copy of the answer to the plaintiff. If the plaintiff is not represented by an attorney, mail or hand-deliver your answer to the plaintiff. If the plaintiff has a lawyer, mail or hand-deliver the answer to the lawyer. The address of the plaintiff or the lawyer is written on the complaint. If the plaintiff’s address is impounded, you may contact the Registry of Probate for instructions on how to serve the plaintiff. Make note of how you delivered the Answer to the plaintiff and the date.
Do I file an answer if the plaintiff has an abuse prevention (209A) order against me?
If plaintiff has a current 209A order (abuse prevention order) against you, you are allowed to send the answer by mail or have it served by a Sheriff or another authorized officer. You may not hand-deliver it yourself. If the plaintiff’s address is impounded, you may contact the Registry of Probate for instructions on how to serve the plaintiff. For more information, see the 209A order you received.
Do I have to file an answer?
No, however, the advantage to filing an answer is, there will be a record of what you want and do not want to happen. If you don’t file an answer and don’t go to court, the Court may give the relief requested by the plaintiff.
I filed an answer. Does that mean I don’t have to show up for the next court date?
No! It is very important that you go to court every time there is a hearing. If you do not show up to a hearing, you may lose important rights regarding children and property. Always go to scheduled court dates on time with copies of all the court documents and other related information. ALWAYS BE PREPARED.
What if I want the Court to make other orders than what plaintiff asked for?
You can file a counterclaim to the complaint. See Instructions for Filing a Counterclaim in the Probate and Family Court.
This is general information. It is not legal advice. If you have questions about your situation, speak with a lawyer.