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Responding to a Complaint Served on You

READ THIS IF YOU HAVE KIDS!

A history of domestic violence between you and the other parent can affect the custody or visitation arrangement for your children. The law presumes that the parent who committed the domestic violence might not get custody and visitation unless he or she meets certain requirements. These may include completing a batterer’s intervention or substance abuse treatment program. To find domestic violence, the law does not require the existence of a protective order or criminal charges. The divorce or custody judge may ask about domestic violence. If there has been domestic violence, you should talk with a lawyer about how this law will impact your case.

What do I do after being served with the complaint and summons?

If you have been served with a complaint and summons, you need to prepare your response which is called an answer. You have 20 days to file an answer and serve the plaintiff (or their attorney if represented). If you do not answer, the other side can ask the court to default you.

When is my answer due?

You have 20 days from the date you were served with the complaint and summons to file your answer with the court and to serve the plaintiff (or their attorney if represented) with a copy of your answer and any other papers you file.

If I am in a foreign country, when is my answer due?

If you are a defendant who has been served in a foreign country, you have 40 days to file an answer from the date you were served with the complaint and summons. You also have 40 days to serve the plaintiff (or their attorney if represented) with a copy of your answer and any other papers you file.

How do I serve the plaintiff with my answer?

You can use first class U.S. mail or hand delivery. Serve to the plaintiff’s address or to their attorney if they have one representing them. You can also serve by a process server, but this is unnecessary and a lot more expensive. Fill out the certificate of service section at the end of the answer form stating when and how you served the plaintiff.

Read more information about serving the opposing party.

What happens if I don't file an answer?

If you were properly served with the complaint and summons and don’t answer, the plaintiff can ask the court to enter a default against you. The court will set a default hearing for the plaintiff and will not notify you. At the hearing, the court will hear only from the plaintiff. The court may issue a default judgment, giving the plaintiff what he/she asked for in the complaint. Read more about the default process.

What forms can I use to answer?

There are different forms and instructions depending on your situation. There may also be classes in your community that teach how to prepare the answer to the complaint.

To answer a custody complaint between unmarried parents:

To answer a divorce complaint:

Can I file a late answer if I missed the deadline?

It depends on how much past the deadline it is and what has happened in the case.

If the court has not entered a default against you, you can file a motion asking the court to accept a late answer. See the motion section to understand the motion process and to find the generic motion packet. You can file your answer with the motion.

If the court has entered the default or set a hearing for the default but has not entered a default judgment, you can ask the court to set aside the default and accept a late answer by filing:

Please read the information about serving the opposing party.

If the court finds good cause and grants your motion, the case will move forward with both parties having the opportunity to participate.

If the court has entered a default judgment against you, within one year the defendant may submit a Motion to Set Aside Default Judgment along with an affidavit and proposed order. The motion should explain why the court should set aside the default judgment, stating the specific reasons according to Civil Rule 60(b). Please see the motion section for more information on filing motions. If the court sets aside the default judgment, the court may allow you to file an answer.


Rev. 4 January 2012
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