Answering a Complaint or Petition
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Responding to a Complaint or Petition
The plaintiff (or petitioner) notifies the defendant (or respondent) that they have started a court case against them by having them served with a complaint (or petition) and summons.
The summons is a notice served on a person to let them know that a complaint or petition has been filed against them. The summons requires the defendant to respond to the complaint within a certain amount of time.
The defendant should carefully read the complaint. If they do not agree with some or all of the claims in the complaint, they must "answer" the complaint by the deadline. The defendant can also use the answer to make any affirmative defenses. The defendant can also file a counterclaim to raise new issues not stated in the plaintiff's complaint.
Time to Respond
The summons will say how many days the defendant has to respond.
In most cases, if the defendant is served in Utah, they must file their answer within 21 calendar days after the date of service. If the defendant is served outside Utah, they must file an answer within 30 calendar days after service. URCP 12(a). The time to answer in an eviction case is much shorter and the time to answer will be stated in the summons.
If the defendant does not file an answer or an appropriate motion within that time, the plaintiff may ask the court to enter a default judgment. A default judgment means the plaintiff wins, and the defendant doesn't get the chance to tell their side of the story. For more information and forms, see our page on Default Judgments.
Content of the Answer
The defendant should carefully read the complaint or petition.
The defendant's answer tells the court and the other party whether they agree or disagree with each of the statements from the complaint, or that they neither agree nor disagree with a statement because they don't have enough information.
If the defendant disagrees with a statement from the complaint, they can explain why they disagree.
Counterclaims, Cross Claims, and Third-Party Claims
A counterclaim is a lawsuit filed by the defendant against the plaintiff within the original case. A counterclaim is the defendant's opportunity to raise claims against the plaintiff for the same series of events (compulsory counterclaim) or the same subject matter (permissive counterclaim).
- the plaintiff sues the defendant for injuries in a traffic accident. The defendant files a counterclaim, alleging that the plaintiff is actually responsible for the accident, and owes the defendant money for injuries caused by the accident.
- in a divorce case, the petitioner did not make any provisions for alimony for the respondent. If the respondent wants to ask for alimony, they must file a counterclaim.
Counterclaims are governed by Utah Rule of Civil Procedure 13.
A party may also choose to bring other parties into the case using a cross-claim or third-party claim. Bringing in additional parties can be complicated; consider contacting an attorney. See the Finding Legal Help web page for information about free and low cost ways to get the help of an attorney.
The counterclaim, cross-claim or third-party claim must meet all of the requirements of a complaint.
A counterclaim is a pleading served after the original complaint in a case and must be served on the opposing party according to the requirements of Utah Rule of Civil Procedure 5.
Filing the Answer
Once the defendant has completed their answer, they must file that document with the court where the complaint was filed.
To "file" a document means delivering it to the court. A document is not filed until the court receives it. Documents can be taken to the court in person, or sent by mail. Documents cannot be faxed or emailed to the court. See the Filing Procedures web page for more information about filing.
There is no fee to file an answer. There is a fee, however, to file a counterclaim, cross-claim or third-party claim.
The defendant can ask that the filing fee be waived. For more information about fees and forms to ask to waive fees, see Fees and Fee Waiver web page.
If the defendant wants a jury trial, and no other party has requested one, the defendant must request one and pay the required fee no later than 10 days after service of the last pleading. The request for a jury trial can be made using the Civil Cover Sheet.
Serving the Answer on the Plaintiff
In addition to filing the answer with the court, the defendant must deliver a copy of the answer to the other party (or their attorney, if they are represented by an attorney).
The defendant can hand deliver the answer, or send it by mail. The defendant may fax or email the answer to the other party only if they get the plaintiff's permission to do so. Utah Rule of Civil Procedure 5 governs the service of an answer. See the Serving Papers web page for more information.
If there are multiple people named as defendants in a case, each defendant must file an answer. Each defendant can file a separate answer, or multiple defendants can file one answer.
If multiple defendants choose to file one answer together, they must make it clear that the answer is for all of them, and each of the defendants covered by that answer must sign the answer.
Replying to Counterclaim, Cross-Claim or Third-Party Claim
The party sued in a counterclaim, cross-claim or third-party claim must file a reply to the claim within 21 calendar days after being served, if they are in Utah. If they are served outside Utah, they must file an answer within 30 calendar days after being served.
If the Defendant Agrees with Everything in the Complaint
If the defendant agrees with everything that is requested in the complaint, they can work with the other party to file a stipulation. This document is signed by both parties and tells the court they are in agreement.
In divorce and custody cases, the respondent can sign a document called Acceptance of Service, Appearance, Consent, and Waiver (sometimes just called "Acceptance of Service" for short) if:
- They have received a copy of the divorce or custody petition and summons
- They have read the petition and other documents
- They understand what the petition and other documents say
- They are in complete agreement with everything requested in the petition and other documents
- They understand they have the right to file an answer, but are choosing to give up that right
A respondent does not have to sign the Acceptance of Service if they do not want to, or if any of the requirements listed above do not apply. If the respondent does not agree with everything in the complaint, they should file an answer within the time allowed.
Alternatives to Filing an Answer
Instead of answering, the defendant may file one of the motions described in Utah Rule of Civil Procedure 12.
If the judge grants the motion, the judge's order will direct the parties what to do next. If the judge denies the motion, the defendant must file an answer within 14 days after the judge's order. For more information and forms, see our page on Motions. See also specific information on the various URCP 12 motions.
An affirmative defense is a reason that the plaintiff should lose even if all of the claims are true. For example, the plaintiff made a procedural mistake, like not serving the defendant properly or the case was filed after the statute of limitations. The defendant might not have any affirmative defenses.
If the defendant includes in the answer any affirmative defenses, the defendant must state the affirmative defense in simple, short and plain sentences describing the affirmative defense and the demand for relief, such as dismissal of the case or judgment for defendant. See URCP 8(b) for the affirmative defenses that must be stated in the answer.
Asking for More Time
If the defendant needs more time to file an answer, they should contact the other party (or their attorney, if they have one) as soon as possible.
If plaintiff agrees to give the defendant more time to answer, the defendant should send the plaintiff a letter describing what was agreed to. The defendant should keep a copy for their records.
If the plaintiff does not agree to give the defendant more time, the defendant must file their answer within the original time or risk a default judgment. If the defendant believes it is necessary to ask for more time to answer and if the plaintiff will not agree to allow more time, the defendant can try filing a motion for more time to answer. See the Motions web page for information and forms.
Removing a Case from District Court to Justice Court
If the defendant has been sued in district court for less than the jurisdictional limits of a small claims case, and if the plaintiff agrees, the defendant can have the case removed-or transferred-from the district court to a justice court and tried as a small claims case. If this is to be done, it has to be done within the time that the defendant has to answer the complaint in district court.
- The first step is to see whether the plaintiff agrees to have the case tried as a small claims case. The defendant cannot remove a case unless the plaintiff agrees.
- The second step is to file the notice of removal in the justice court and pay the appropriate filing fee to the justice court. The defendant must pay the filing fee that the plaintiff would have paid for a small claims case. The plaintiff does not get a refund of the district court filing fee, but there is no fee if the plaintiff wants to appeal the small claims decision.
- The third third step is to file a notice of removal in the district court. This must be done after the notice of removal in the justice court because the defendant must provide to the district court the case number from the justice court.
All three steps must be completed within the time that the defendant has to answer the complaint in district court: 21 days after service if served in Utah; and 30 days after service if served outside of Utah. When these steps are complete, the district court will send a copy of the court's records to the justice court. The case can be removed to a justice court whose jurisdiction is:
- in the judicial district in which the civil case is pending;
- where the defendant resides; or
- where the events happened.
Once the case is removed to justice court, the court will schedule the case for trial, and the case will proceed as any other small claims case in that court. If the defendant wants to appeal the small claims decision, they will have to pay the appropriate filing fees. If the plaintiff wants to appeal the decision, they do not.
Removing a Case From Justice Court to District Court
If the defendant has been sued in justice court in a small claims case, and they want to have a jury trial, they must transfer ("remove") the case from the justice court to a district court.
A case can be removed to a district court in the same judicial district as the justice court in which the small claims case was filed, and where the defendant resides or where the events happened.
The defendant must file the forms within 15 days of being served with the Affidavit and Summons for the small claims case.
The defendant must:
- File a Notice of Removal to District Court form in the district court and pay the jury fee. The plaintiff does not get a refund of the justice court filing fee.
- File a Notice of Removal from Justice Court form in the justice court. This must be done after the notice of removal is filed in the district court because the defendant must give the justice court the case number from the district court.
When these steps are complete, the justice court will send a copy of the court's records to the district court.
Once the case is removed to district court, that court will schedule the case for trial, and the case will proceed as any other civil case in that court. The rules of small claims procedure would no longer apply. Instead, the rules of civil procedure and the rules of evidence would apply.
Forms for filing an Answer in specific case types
- Custody, Support or Paternity - under Domestic Cases (Using OCAP, the Online Court Assistance Program; OCAP can also create a counterclaim)
- Debt Collection (Utah Legal Services)
- Divorce - under Domestic Cases (Using OCAP, the Online Court Assistance Program; OCAP can also create a counterclaim)
- Eviction - under Landlords and Tenants (Using OCAP, the Online Court Assistance Program; OCAP can also create a counterclaim)
Or, use the generic Answer form found in the next section.
Forms for filing an Answer
There are forms for specific case types listed in the section above.
Forms for filing a Counterclaim in specific case types
- Custody, Support or Paternity - under Domestic Cases (Using OCAP, the Online Court Assistance Program, as part of an Answer)
- Divorce - under Domestic Cases (Using OCAP, the Online Court Assistance Program, as part of an Answer)
- Eviction - under Landlords and Tenants (Using OCAP, the Online Court Assistance Program, as part of an Answer)
Or, use the generic Counterclaim form found in the next section.
Forms for filing a Counterclaim
- Checklist - PDF | Word
- Cover Sheet for Civil Actions (Filing Fees) - PDF | Word
- Counterclaim - PDF | Word
Forms for removing a case to justice court
- Checklist - PDF | Word
- Notice of Removal from District Court (Filed in Justice Court) - PDF | Word
- Notice of Removal to Justice Court (Filed in District Court) - PDF | Word
- Notice of Hearing - PDF | Word