So you've been served: Understanding the basics of a lawsuit


We’ve all seen movies or TV dramas where someone opens their door to find an officer standing there ready to serve them paperwork. But what would you do if you found yourself on the other side of that door knock? Civil lawsuits usually occur after a dispute between people or businesses, and are typically used in family law cases. If you’re being sued, that means you’re the defendant. Don’t panic. Many cases settle before reaching a trial. Here are the basics of a lawsuit and what to do next if you’ve been served.

First Steps

If you’re being sued and the grounds of the suit are false, it’s up to you to prove that. You should immediately hire a lawyer to represent you and advise you on any next steps you may take. If there is some truth to the suit, it’s equally important to get legal representation to make sure your side of the story is accurately represented and help negotiate a fair resolution. Don’t make any decisions alone about whether you want to fight the lawsuit, default, or seek a settlement — there are many factors to consider, and your lawyer should help make sure you understand all of them.

Your Options

If the allegations outlined in the lawsuit are truthful, and you’re willing to meet all of the plaintiff’s terms, your attorney can contact the other party to quickly resolve the issue. If you’re being sued, you must submit a response, called an “answer,” within a defined limited period of time, according to Saving Thousands. This is a document responding to each claim made against you.

Negotiation is another possible response to a civil lawsuit. Your attorney can contact the plaintiff to negotiate a resolution. In eviction cases, for example, landlords are often willing to drop the lawsuit and court fees if you pay any outstanding rent immediately. Each type of lawsuit has a specific legal deadline, according to Civil Law Self Help Center, so if you are going to negotiate, start the process as soon as possible after being served.

Next Steps

After you submit your answer, assuming your case was not dismissed, there will be many steps to undertake as your case progresses through the legal process. Ultimately, the lawsuit will be dismissed, settled by agreement, or proceed to a trial. At your trial your attorney will state your case, and the judge will make the final call. No matter what path to resolution you pursue, it is essential that your attorney fully understands your side of the story and everything that happened in detail, so he/she can help you determine which path is right for you, and then make sure the truth of the matter is accurately portrayed in court.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore the claims. That will result in the plaintiff asking the judge for a default judgment — and if you’re not there to defend yourself and haven’t responded to the lawsuit, it’s unlikely the judge will rule in your favor. The best thing to do is speak with an experienced attorney who can talk you through your negotiation options or help you build a case for your defense.

How do you know if you’ve found an attorney who truly understands your case and will protect your interests in court? Look for a lawyer who listens. That’s why Schiffman Family Law offers a free one-hour consultation to all potential new clients to discuss the specifics of your case. Contact us to book a no-strings-attached consultation with Mike Schiffman today.