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How Do I Respond to a Court Summons?

Heeding a court summons will avoid a default judgment for the defendant in a civil action.
A defendant has 21 days to file a response after a plaintiff files a summons and complaint in court.
A jury summons demands the presence of a citizen in court for jury duty.
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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Images By: Apops, Anna, Daniel Oines
  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2014
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Receiving a court summons can be a scary experience for many people. Often, there is a great deal of confusion on what to do next. While many court systems provide guidelines for responding to a summons, there are a few basic processes to employ as part of the process, including reviewing the claims made in the summons, deciding whether or not to seek professional legal assistance, and finally how to go about framing the response so that the answer is relevant and paves the way for the eventual resolution of the issue.

Upon receiving a court summons, the first step is to determine what type of summons is involved. There are many different types of summons and complaint documents used by court systems. The summon may have to do with a civil case that is pending, be related to a family court, or possibly even a hearing at a tax court. The jurisdiction is also important to note, since the document may be a federal, a state, or even a county court summons. Identifying the type of summons involved will make it easier to have some idea of what to do next.

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Taking the time to read the content of the court summons will provide additional details that will aid in deciding how to respond. For example, if the summons is from a district court and has to do with a defaulted credit card balance, checking the balance to make sure that the debt is yours and that the amount named is correct is essential. If the document is a jury summons, checking the date range and determining if there are any reasons why you could not be available on those days is also important. Once you know what the summons is all about, it’s easier to decide how to frame the response.

Keep in mind that receiving a court summons does not necessarily mean there is trouble pending. For example, a jury summons simply means you are being called for jury duty. At the same time, a summons calling for you to be a witness at some type of trial simply means that you are to show up at the site of the trial on the date and time requested and be prepared to answer questions relevant to that trial. With these types of actions, seeking legal advice is usually not necessary. On the other hand, if the summons indicates you are being sued for some type of debt or action, securing professional legal assistance before responding to the summons is usually a good idea.

Once you have determined whether or not legal counsel is warranted, follow the directions included with the summons to frame the response. An attorney can manage this task if desired. Make sure the response covers all relevant information found in the summons, and that the response is returned within the time frame specified in the summons itself, usually anywhere from two to three weeks after receipt. Compliance with the court will help prevent incidences of being considered in contempt if the document is a jury summons, and also prevent a default judgement from occurring if you are the defendant in a civil action.

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