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Instructions for Filing an Answer in a Civil Case (Non Family Law)

Note: This checklist does not apply to family law cases, such as divorce, child support, custody, visitation, or modification.

To respond in a family law case, see How to File an Answer in a Family Law Case.

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WARNING! The information and forms in this toolkit are not legal advice and are not a substitute for the help of a lawyer. It’s a good idea to talk with a lawyer about your particular situation.

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Step 1: Calculate the deadline to file your answer (if you were served).

If you have been officially served with a Citation and Petition, there is a deadline to file your answer.  

  • To determine the deadline, find the day you were served on a calendar, count out 20 more days (including weekends and holidays) then go to the next Monday. You must file your answer with the court on or before this date at 10:00 a.m. If the 20th day falls on a Monday, go to the next Monday. If the courts are closed on the day your answer is due, then your answer is due the next day the courts are open.
  • If you are served and do not file an answer on or before the deadline, the plaintiff can finish the case without any further notice to you. This is called a “default judgment.”
  • You may be able to file your answer late. If the plaintiff has not finished the case, you can file your answer after the deadline.
  • To learn if the plaintiff has finished the case, call the district clerk’s office (where the case was filed). Ask the clerk if the judge has signed a final order in the case. If the judge has not signed a final order the case is still pending and you can file your answer late. If the judge has signed a final order the case is finished.
  • If the plaintiff has finished the case, talk to a lawyer right away. Depending on how much time has passed, you may be able to file a Motion to Set Aside the Default Judgment.

If you have NOT been officially served, there is no deadline to file your answer. You can file your answer at any time after the plaintiff files its Petition (the form that starts lawsuit) with the court. If you file your answer now, the plaintiff will not need to have you served. 

Important: The 20-day deadline applies to cases filed in the district courts and county courts at law. A shorter deadline may apply to your case, and will appear on your “citation.” Some exceptions to the 20-day deadline are below:

  • To determine the deadline for filing an answer in a justice court (that is not an eviction case), find the day you were served on a calendar, count out 14 more days (including weekends and holidays). You must file your answer with the court on or before this day. If the court is closed on the day your answer is due (or if the court closes before 5:00 p.m. on the day your answer is due), then your answer is due the next day the court is open.
     
  • The answer deadline for an eviction case is often between 7 to 10 days from the day you were served and will be written for you in your “citation” (court paper that gives you notice of the lawsuit that you get when you are served with the petition). Read your “citation” and court papers carefully to determine your answer deadline. In some courts, however, filing a written answer for an eviction is not required. Instead, you must go to court on the specific date and time noted in your “citation.” 

Note for out-of-state respondents: Talk with a lawyer before filing an Answer, if you 1) do not live in Texas and 2) do not want a Texas court to have the power to make orders that would impose a personal obligation on you.  Such orders could include orders requiring you to pay court costs and lawyer’s fees.

If you file an answer (or any other pleading) before filing a special appearance, you will give up your right to argue that Texas can’t make such orders because you live out-of-state. Ask a Texas lawyer to help you determine if Texas has “personal jurisdiction” over you. TexasLawHelp does not have a special appearance form right now. 

 

Step 2: Fill out the Answer Form

Answer every question and fill out every blank on the form. 

Click here for the Answer Form

When completing the form:

  • You are the “defendant.” The other side is the “plaintiff.”
  • Case information. Find the cause number, court number, county and court type on the Petition filed by the plaintiff. Write the same cause number, court number, county and court type in the corresponding places on the form.
  • Affirmative defenses. Affirmative defenses are a way to tell the judge new information about the case that can help a defendant win even if what the plaintiff is saying is true.  Learn more by reading the TexasLawHelp.org article, Affirmative Defenses Guide & Examples. on affirmative defenses. If you have questions on which affirmative defenses (if any) apply to your case, it is important to talk with a lawyer.
     
  • Verified pleas. This section of the form asks you to identify certain matters that apply to your case that the law says must be “verified.”
    • To verify something means that you sign under penalty of perjury that this information is true and correct.
    • It is really important that you complete this section with the help of a lawyer. 
    • The answer form has an Unsworn Declaration for you to sign to verify your pleas, if any, that apply to your case. 
       
  • Certificate of service. Fill out the Certificate of Service to show how you will give the plaintiff’s lawyer (or the plaintiff if the plaintiff does not have a lawyer) a file-stamped copy of your answer.
     
  • Print and sign the answer form.
    • Sign your name and write the date in paragraph 5. 
    • Sign the unsworn declaration under penalty of perjury in paragraph 6. 
    • Note: It is important that everything in your answer form is true and correct. You can be disciplined for lying on this form.
    • Sign your name and write the date in the Certificate of Service in paragraph 7.
  • Talk to a lawyer if you have questions or need help.

Make a copy of your completed answer form for yourself and for the plaintiff. 

 

Step 3: File (turn in) your answer form.

File (turn in) your completed answer form with the court. 

  • To file online, go to E-File Texas and follow the instructions.
  • To file in person, take your answer (and copies) to the district clerk’s office in the county where the plaintiff filed the case.

At the clerk’s office:

  • Turn in your answer form (and copies).
  • Ask the clerk if there are local rules or procedures you need to know about for your case.
  • The clerk will “file stamp” your forms with the date and time. The clerk will keep the original and return your copies. One copy is for you and the other copy is for the plaintiff.

Note: It does not cost anything to file an answer. Filing an answer is FREE.

 

Step 4: Send a copy to the plaintiff.

Send a file-stamped copy of your answer to the plaintiff. If the plaintiff has a lawyer, send it to the lawyer instead of directly to the plaintiff. You can send it by:

  • Hand delivery
  • Email
  • Mail
  • Commercial delivery service (for example FedEx)
  • Fax
  • Electronic service through the electronic filing manager.
    • (Note: The method is required if you electronically file (E-File) this document and the email address of the party or the party’s lawyer is on file with the electronic file manager.)
Step 5: Learn more.

Filing an answer protects your right to have a say in the issues involved in your case. Once you file an answer, the plaintiff cannot finish the case unless:

  1. you agree to and sign a final Order, or
  2. the plaintiff gives you notice of a contested hearing date.

Filing an answer does not mean your case is over.

Talk with a lawyer if you have questions or need advice.