Summons And Complaint: What Is It And How It Work In Civil Context

Wondering what is a summons and complaint?

You received a complaint and summons and now you are wondering what to do next.

In this article, we’ll go over the topic of summons and complaint in detail to help you hit the ground running.

Are you ready?

Let’s get started….

What is a summons and complaint

To better understand what is summons and complaint in the context of a civil lawsuit, we must first understand what is a complaint and then what is a summons.

A complaint is a legal pleading or a document containing a series of allegations typically referred to as a lawsuit.

In a complaint, you’ll outline the reasons why you are suing someone and what type of remedy or relief you are demanding from the court.

A summons on the other hand is a formal notice given by a civil plaintiff to the defendant notifying the defendant that a legal action has been filed against that person.

The summons must contain the legally mandated information such as the name of parties, court file number, date and time that defendant is requested to appear in court, name and contact number of opposing counsel and other information such as consequences of not appearing in court.

Now, when we say “summons and complaint”, we are actually referring to both the complaint document or the court petition along with the summons or the notification.

When a person is served with a complaint summons along with the actual complaint, they’ll see exactly what is being asked from them in court along with when they must show up to court.

The summons is a notification that you are required to appear in court and take action.

The complaint is a detailed statement by the plaintiff on the grounds for filing the complaint justifying the ask from the court.

Examples of summons and complaint

What are some examples of summons and complaint to better understand the concept?

The complaint and summons is a broad and generic term referring to any possible civil complaint and summons.

Here are a few examples:

  1. Summons and complaint debt collection
  2. Summons and complaint child support
  3. Summons and complaint eviction 
  4. Summons and complaint breach of contract

Any type of civil action you can think will be initiated with a complaint and summons.

You need to start a civil action by serving the defendant with a copy of the complaint and the summons on complaint.

Without this initial step, your legal action is defective.

If a defendant receives a complaint without a summons, then you cannot expect the defendant to show up in court on a specific date.

If the defendant get summons without a complaint, then the defendant does not know how to answer.

As a result, all civil action will start with a summons and complaint.

Answer to summons and complaint 

When you are served with a summons and complaint, the time starts ticking with respect to how long you have to answer.

There are several ways you can answer a summons:

  1. You can attempt to negotiate with the opposing party to settle the case 
  2. You can notify your intention that you will defend yourself and contest the complaint and file an answer to the complaint 
  3. You can notify your intention that you will defend yourself, file an answer to the complaint along with your own cross-claim 
  4. You can file a preliminary application such as a motion to dismiss or other to have the case thrown out of court right from the outset

You’ll need to consult your attorney to see which option is base in dealing with your summons and complaint answer.

Avoiding a default on summons and complaint 

Once you have received a summons and complaint, you’ll notice you are given a date and time to appear before the court.

If you want to avoid putting yourself in default of responding to the summons, you must either file an answer to the summons and complaint before the date indicated on the summons or appear in court in person on the day noted on the summons.

If you respond to the summons and complaint or show up in court, you will not be considered in default.

If you do not respond and you do not show up, you’ll be considered in default.

Default on a summons and complaint

When you are served with a summons and complaint, you are essentially put on legal notice that a lawsuit has been filed against you and you are given a chance to defend yourself.

In most cases, people will answer the summons and complaint and file a defense.

What happens if you don’t answer the summons and complaint?

In reality, there’s nothing forcing you to respond to a civil lawsuit filed against you.

Theoretically, you have the option of ignoring it.

However, that may be a bad idea.

It’s a bad idea as you can give the plaintiff legal reasons to get a judgment issued against you by default.

By not answer the summons and complaint, you are essentially accepting the fact that you will not present your point of view to the court in defense of the allegations raised against you.

By not answer, you are also foregoing your right to file a counter-claim or a lawsuit of your own against the other party.

Without an answer from you, you’ll be deemed in default and the court will proceed against you based on the plaintiff’s allegations and evidence. 

This can result in a default judgment against you.

Often, a default judgment will not be in your favour.

To avoid a default judgment, you’ll need to respond to the summons and complaint.

If you are not sure how to go about it, this is the time to contact a lawyer and get legal advice or get legal representation.


If you are served with a complaint and summons, you will need to react to it.

Don’t set it aside and ignore it.

Read the document carefully to see who is suing you, in front of what court, what’s the complaint and by what date you must respond.

You should immediately look to define your strategy in responding to the summons and complaint.

Are you going to contact the other party to try to settle the case?

Are you going to file a defense against the complaint?

Do you have your own counter-claim against the plaintiff?

Maybe you want to present a motion to dismiss.

If you need the advice and representation of a lawyer, this is the time to find someone.

By answering the complaint, you’ll avoid placing yourself in a situation of default where the plaintiff can get a quick judgment against you based on allegations that may not be totally true.

Our word of advice is for you not to ignore the complaint and summons you received.

We hope you enjoyed this article.

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