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What will happen if I don't respond to a summon on a civil case. Will I go to jail? And if I file bankruptcy?

Sacramento, CA |
Attorney answers 3


If you do not respond to the summons then the creditor will have the ability to obtain a default judgment against you. A default judgment can then be used to levy against a bank account, garnish wages or put a lien on your property. You will not go to jail for failing to respond to a civil case.

If you need to file for bankruptcy then filing will stop the civil case from proceeding. When a bankruptcy case is filed an automatic stay comes into play which prevents creditors from proceeding with any collection actions including lawsuits.


Not responding is not a good option. The creditor will likely move for a default judgment against you. Without your contesting, they would get a judgment for whatever they want, without you questioning the amount, the interest, the costs, the fees and otherwise. And, although it is true that there are no debtor's prisons, if you ignore court hearings compelling you to pay you would at that point be in contempt of court which can lead to improsonment.

If you have received court papers, you should not ignore them. Failing to respond within the allotted time will result in a default judgment.

Always answer the summons within the time required. When you are served with a law suit, the papers will tell you what the time period is in order to respond. Without this response, the party that brought the suit can apply for a default judgment against you and will also pile on attorney fees and costs.

If you have any doubt how to answer the legal papers, here are some options:

(1) Go to the court clerk's office and ask for help. Court clerks may not give legal advice and so you should not rely on the clerk’s office to tell you what to say in response to the legal allegation, or how to defend yourself. However, they may be able to assist in providing various forms or explaining the time deadlines.

(2) Retain an attorney. This is the best option because an attorney understands the meaning of the language in the complaint and understands what valid defenses you have.

(3) If you can not afford an attorney, call the state or county bar association and ask for a low fee or no fee referral.

Beyond answering the legal papers, civil court rules also allow you to send discovery to the people who have sued you, requiring them to answer questions and to provide documents. This can only be done if you answer in a timely fashion, and should really only be done by an attorney.

I truly wish you the best.

This answer is provided for informational purposes only. Actual legal advice can only be provided in an office consultation by an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction, with experience in the area of law in which your concern lies.


You have 30 days to respond to the lawsuit. If you do not respond they can get a default judgment against you. If suit alleges fraud you may not be able to eliminate the liability in bankruptcy as fraud is one ground for not getting a discharge.

The first question for you to answer is do you owe the money? If so, how much? Sometimes it is cheaper to work out a payment plan than to ruin your credit for 10 years by filing bankruptcy.

You might contact a business litigation attorney in your area.

The response given is not intended to create, nor does it create an ongoing duty to respond to questions. The response does not form an attorney-client relationship, nor is it intended to be anything other than the educated opinion of the author. It should not be relied upon as legal advice. The response given is based upon the limited facts provided by the person asking the question. To the extent additional or different facts exist, the response might possibly change. Attorney is licensed to practice law only in the State of California. Responses are based solely on California law unless stated otherwise.

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