Being served generally means a constable or a private process server has handed you a petition and a document titled "Citation". This service is our system's due process for notifying a party that a suit has been filed against him or her.
There are situations where a court will allow you to be served by publication or by leaving it at your door among other options in very specific situations not covered in this blog. There are also situations where you can agree to accept service of citation in order to avoid the awkward encounter with the server.
Once served you must file an answer by a date certain just as the citation states or challenge the Court's jurisdiction through a special appearance. The deadline to file an answer is always "by 10:00 a.m. of the Monday next after the expiration of 20 days after the date of service hereof". If this language confuses you, you are not alone.
To calculate the answer deadline, count the 20 days with day one being the day after you were served. The Monday immediately following the 20th day is your answer deadline but the answer has to be file-marked by the clerk by 10:00 am. The answer can always be filed before the deadline, which is a common practice for attorneys.
If you fail to timely answer the Court can make ruling and decisions affecting you, your assets and in some cases your children. Many people ignore being served, or ignore the lawsuit generally, thinking that a court cannot do anything without their presence. This is absolutely untrue.
In fact, a court can do many things without you, including deeming that all allegations in the petition are true, award a money judgment against you, determine how you will split visitation, determine how much child support you are obligated to pay and so on, all without your involvement. Ignoring the lawsuit is the equivalent of saying, "I did everything the petitioner says I did and you can have everything you want without limitation."
If you have missed your answer date, contact an attorney immediately as there may be a way for your attorney to stop a default judgment from occurring.