I wrote earlier about the erroneous assumptions that clients make when they are served with a suit for money owed. The first is that there is an immediate, life changing emergency. The second, which I want to explore today, is that they have a court date some months in the future. Wrong.
California law provides that a defendant, the person sued, has 30 days from the service of the summons in which to answer the complaint. The answer tells the other side and the court what are the disputed issues in the suit. Does the defendant claim he’s not the person who owes the money? that the amount of money is incorrectly stated? that he’s paid it in full? Unless the parties settle, the court will decide those disputed issues at trial.
However, if the defendant does not answer the complaint, the court assumes that the defendant does not dispute the contentions of the complaint. If there is not dispute, and the plaintiff has followed the procedural rules, the court will enter a judgment for the plaintiff just as soon as the plaintiff submitts the correct papers. There is no need for that hearing date in the papers if there is no properly teed up dispute for the court to resolve.
So, the moral of this story is that the defendant must file a timely answer to the complaint in order to prevent entry of a default judgment for the relief sought in the prayer of the complaint.
If the defendant agrees that they owe the money, which is most often the case among my clients, then the real issue is what to do about debts you can’t pay. We discuss their bankruptcy options.