If you have been named as the defendant in a legal case and received a summons, the first thing to do is read the document fully. You need to understand what it is about and what is expected of you. Do not ignore a summons. Even if you do not agree with the premises of it, you may be subjected to legal consequences if you ignore it.
There are a number of different ways legal papers might find their ways to your door.
- Hand delivery by a Sheriff or legal process worker.
- Delivered to someone at your home at your place of work.
- Attaching to the front door of your home.
- Via mail. This is the most common method of delivery.
The only legal requirement of the deliverance of court papers is that the expectation the intended recipient will receive them is reasonable.
It’s important to know that if you are implicated in a court proceeding, and the court does not have a record of your home address and no one involved is able (or willing) to provide it, the proceedings may go forward without you- and you may not like the result. If you have any reason to think you may become part of a legal proceeding, it would be wise to proactively go to the courthouse and have them put your home address on file.
If you intend to claim that you no longer live at the address where the plaintiff claims you live, you should be prepared to show proof of your new address such as a utility bill or lease agreement.
Should you choose to ignore the summons, a default judgment can be entered against you. This is usually bad and can sit in the court’s records for years until you eventually find out the hard way.
Do not try to avoid the summons by not accepting a certified package. There is a chance the court will not receive the returned package and will go ahead with the case as if you have received the papers under the assumption that you have chosen to ignore them. Judges tend to get fussy about that kind of thing. Chances are that a default judgment will be entered against you.
How to read a summons
In a lawsuit the documents used are called Pleadings. All lawsuits begin with a set of two pleadings: a Summons and a Complaint.
– The summons is the notice we discussed above. It is the court’s way of letting you know you’re expected to show up in your Sunday best at the specified time to defend yourself. You may sometimes be directed to respond in writing. Your response to the complaint is called an Answer. You must either file it with the court at a certain date or present it in person at a trial.
– The Complaint is a statement made by the plaintiff explaining why they are suing you.
After you receive your summons, you have the option to contact the plaintiff (assuming a restraining order is not involved), and attempt to settle the problem out of court. Be sure to make a record of everything that happens from the moment you receive your summons, to the time things are meant to be resolved. Write down everything that’s been agreed to, who gets what and for how long.