What Is An Answer, And Why Do I Have To File One?

An ANSWER is the document that you file in response to a complaint, if you’re not the party doing the suing, but are instead the party being sued. It’s used, and understood by the courts and by the attorneys, to determine just what is and just what is not at issue between these folks.

Those things that are not at issue are agreed upon. Those things that ARE at issue may need to be decided by the judge.

The court rules (and there are a lot of them: that’s what you pay your lawyer for) provide that each COMPLAINT set forth facts, in numbered paragraphs, one fact per paragraph, in the complaint. The court rules also provide that the person ANSWERing set forth answers, in numbered paragraphs, one answer per paragraph (corresponding to the allegations in the complaint’s paragraph), in direct response to those specific allegations in the complaint.

I’ve attached here a sample complaint. Go look at it.

I’ve also attached a sample answer. Go look at it.

From examining the complaint side-by-side with the answer, you should be able to determine the following questions, just like a judge would:

  1. Is the Defendant, John Jones, the real father of the child, Marty Jones?
  2. Is the Defendant, John Jones, entitled to any portion of Jenny Jones’ beauty shop business?
  3. Is the Plaintiff, Jenny Jones, entitled to have some of her attorneys fees paid by the Defendant, John Jones?

Now go figure it out. Really. And then we’ll go to the solution.

Answer to the Complaint

The Defendant, John Jones, is the real father of the minor child, Marty Jones. He was alleged to be the father in the complaint, and he didn’t deny that he admitted it. It’s not at issue.

Neither the lawyers nor the judge, are going to spend any more time on this point in this case.

As to the beauty shop, it might or might not be an issue: as an attorney, I’d have to advise my client that the other side hasn’t really made up their mind about this one and that it’s still up in the air. Technically, they’ve answered “neither admit nor deny”, and they’re allowed to do that if they state a reasonable basis for doing so: lack of knowledge, the old “I just don’t have any idea if that’s true or not yet” is a good basis. We would expect that the other side wants to investigate, through the DISCOVERY process, just where the money to start the business came from, what it has grown into, when did it start, who did the work, all of these things.

CAUTION: You can’t just file an answer that says “neither admit nor deny” as to every fact recited (or even worse, “denied” as to every fact recited), and expect to get away with that. The court rules provide that if an allegation ISN’T admitted, but it SHOULD HAVE BEEN admitted, and the other side has to go to the trouble of proving it, at court, they are going to be awarded their expenses (including the witnesses necessary, and the attorneys fees for the time involved) for the effort involved in doing so.

The attorney’s fees are very much at issue. John Jones has DENIED that Jenny Jones is entitled to any attorneys fees, and he stated the reason that he doesn’t think that she’s so entitled. He claims that she’s earning good money, she’s not short of funds, and he shouldn’t have to help her out with the attorney’s fees expense. If what John says is true, the judge likely WOULDN’T award her any attorneys fees.

But it’s definitely at issue, and it’s going to have to be decided by the judge.

Now let’s look at what’s NOT at issue in this case:

The divorce is going to be in this court: both parties agree that the grounds for jurisdiction and venue have been met.

The house, the cars, and the pension (yes, JOHN’S pension, the one HE WORKED FOR, slaved in the factory all those years) are marital property, and going to be divided by the court. And not just because John admitted it. If John had denied the allegation, the court would STILL be dividing it, because, in fact, it IS marital property, if it was accumulated during the marriage: John and his lawyer are smart, they are saving a little time and aggravation, by admitting the obvious.

The question of custody and support is very much up in the air: the other side has asserted that John is just as qualified as Jenny to raise and manage the children, but they have NOT called Jenny a bunch of names, made outrageous allegations, and generally pissed her off, to the point that no talking would be fruitful. I told you these guys were smart.

I think it’s time that Jenny’s lawyer gets her into the office, have a little meeting, place a telephone call to the other attorney, and see what can be agreed upon, and what can’t.