In today's installment of the Seven Steps program we're going to talk about the mechanics of actually answering the petition that was served on you. In general, answering is actually very easy, but there are some special issues you need to be aware of, particularly if you live in California, Pennsylvania, or Ohio. Tomorrow we'll talk about counterclaims. For the first video in this series, click here.
If you live in California, Pennsylvania or Ohio, there are some very special issues you should be concerned about even before you answer the petition. Please click on the appropriate link now for information tailored specifically to your jurisdiction. These jurisdictions have special rules – in California this is related to what you are entitled to plead in your Answer and your right to demand a “bill of particulars;” and in Ohio and Pennsylvania it refers to your opportunity to file “Preliminary Objections” - which must be filed before answering the petition or you risk losing extremely valuable rights. You should click on the appropriate link before you read the rest of this article - and certainly before you begin trying to create an answer to the petition.
Other jurisdictions may also have special have similar rules. The way you would find that out is by looking at your state's Rules of Civil Procedure. Look at the rules specifically relating to "pleading." In at least some situations in Georgia, if a debt plaintiff verifies (swears to the truth) of a debt, the defendant must also verify the answer for it to be legally effective.In California, the pleadings may also be required to be verified, and thus general form denials can get you into trouble. So your first step in preparation to answer the petition must be to find out the rules that control what you can do.
Once you have figured out the ground rules established by the Rules of Civil Procedure, how to answer the petition is not difficult and should take you only a few minutes. You'll basically deny whatever you can, forcing them to try to prove their entire case against you. There's no formula required for your denials, and you probably don't even need to type them - in many jurisdictions you could simply make a photocopy of the petition and write "Deny" after every paragraph.
I'm not suggesting that, however, because it is too easy to do a more "professional" job of it, and the better the job, the more quickly the other side and the court will respect you.
Remember also that anything you do not deny will be taken as established (unless your Rules of Civil Procedure say otherwise).
This article is part of a series of articles and videos. For the first in the series, click here. Sign up here for the series. You'll also receive other information that I think will be helpful and informative occasionally.