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What you need for Respond to a case filed against you in Probate and Family Court
If you're 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 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's a Complaint for Contempt. Be sure to get your answer to the plaintiff and the court by that deadline.
You don't have to file an answer, however, the advantage to filing an answer is that there will be a record of what you want and don't 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.
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 can write it yourself. You’ll 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.
The answer must include:
This is the information at the top of the page. If you're using a court form, fill out this section. If you're writing your own answer, it should include:
- The name of the court (in this case, 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's 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, the title is provided for you. If you’re writing an answer yourself, you need to provide a title. Look at the complaint and see what it's 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 the box that you “admit” the allegations in that paragraph.
- You don't agree or don't know if the information is correct: Check the box that you “deny or do not know” the allegations in that paragraph.
- You agree with part of what the plaintiff wrote in a paragraph and disagree with or don’t know part of what they 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 don't 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…”
- You want the court to deny the plaintiff’s requests: Check the box “deny relief requested…”
- You want the court to make other orders: Check the boxes “dismiss the complaint…” and “grant the relief requested in the attached counterclaim…” You can find more information about counterclaims at Counterclaims in Probate and Family Court.
If you're 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're using the court form: Fill out this section.
- If you're 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 2 explaining how you sent the answer to the plaintiff. You should include:
- Your name
- The name of the person you sent the answer to
- When you sent it
- How you sent it (Certified Mail, First Class Mail, hand-delivered, etc.)
- 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. Remember to write the docket number on the top of each page.
Fees for Respond to a case filed against you in Probate and Family Court
There is no fee to file an answer.
How to respond Respond to a case filed against you in Probate and Family Court
File your answer in the court that is hearing your case. Court staff will place it in the numbered file folder with the plaintiff’s complaint and any other documents filed in the case. Find your Probate and Family Court.
Send your forms to the court that is hearing your case. Court staff will place it in the numbered file folder with the plaintiff’s complaint and any other documents filed in the case. Find the address of your Probate and Family Court.
Next steps for Respond to a case filed against you in Probate and Family Court
You need to give a copy of the answer to the plaintiff.
- If the plaintiff isn’t represented by a lawyer: 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 you delivered it.
If the plaintiff has a restraining order against you
If plaintiff has a current 209A order (abuse prevention order) against you, you're 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.
If you want the court to make orders that are different from what the plaintiff asked for, you can file a counterclaim to the complaint. See Filing a Counterclaim in the Probate and Family Court for more information.
If you file an answer, it's still very important that you go to court every time there is a hearing. If you don't show up to a hearing, you may lose important rights regarding children and property. Always go to scheduled court dates on time and bring copies of all the court documents and other related information.
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