2. Wait to see if the other side responds

After the defendant is served, they usually have 30 days to respond. This means filing a response in court. Depending on how (and if) they respond, you have some options for the next steps.

Wait 30 days 

After the defendant is personally served the Summons and Complaint, they have 30 days to file a response with the court and have a copy delivered (served) to you. If your server used substituted service, the defendant has 40 days from when the papers were mailed to file a response if your server used substituted service. 

At any point, if you and the other side want to try to work something out, you can talk to the other side or get help from a mediator to come to an agreement without going to court (or in addition to going to court). You can also agree to give the defendant more time to file a response if you're trying to reach an agreement.

Your next steps depend what the defendant did

What you can do next, depends on what the defendant did once they got the papers.

If the defendant didn't file a response by the deadline, the next day you can ask the court to end their chance to respond and to rule in your favor. This is called asking for entry of a default. You should file this within 10 days after the deadline to respond passed. California Rules of Court 3.110(g).

The defendant can file a response any time before you file for a default, so if you want to stop them from responding, it's best to ask for one as early as you can.

The default stops the defendant from responding but, by itself, it doesn't get you a court order or judgment. Once you have a default, you have 45 days to ask for a default judgment. That's the court's final decision on the case.

A default and a default judgment are separate steps. They are technical. You can do them one at a time. You are not required to do that.  If you have the paperwork ready for both, the default and the default judgment, you can turn them in at the same time.

How to ask for a default

If the defendants were served on different days, they will have different deadlines to respond. You may not be able to get a default for all of them at once. You have a couple of options.

  • You can ask for a default against the defendant who missed the deadline. Later, if any other defendant misses their deadline, you can ask for a default against them as well.
  • You can wait for all the deadlines to pass. Then you can ask for a default for all the defendants that do not respond.

If the defendant filed an Answer or a General Denial, they need to send you a copy of what they filed. This means they are going to participate in the lawsuit and defend themselves. Even if they do this, you can still work together to try to come up with an agreement.

At this point, you can start discovery. This means sending the defendant requests for information. They can also send you requests. As you do this, you and the other side will often start talking and may come to an agreement. For example, if they or you have very strong evidence you may decide to settle the case instead of going to trial.

In the next few months, you may have some court dates and other tasks to start preparing your case. Often when you file a case, the court sets a case management conference (often called a CMC). This is a date when the judge checks in to see where things are at and that the case is moving along. It's generally 4 to 6 months after you first filed the Complaint. You may have gotten the date for it when you filed your lawsuit.

It is important to discuss the case with the other side before the case management conference.  You also need to file a case management conference statement (and serve a copy on the other side) at least 15 calendar days before the CMC. This tells the judge more about the case so the CMC can be more productive. It is also part of the rules. 

A defendant might file a motion or a cross-complaint

Motions or other responses

If the defendant thinks the Complaint did not meet a legal requirement or was served in the wrong way, they might file a response asking the court to do something about it, like cancel (dismiss) the case. Common examples are a Motion to Quash Service or a Demurrer. If the defendant filed any of these you'll need to respond by a deadline, usually 9 court days before the hearing on the motion.


This means the defendant is suing someone else. It could be you or someone else. If you've been sued back, then you'll have 30 days to file a response.


More about motions and cross-complaints

If you have an agreement, dismiss your case if that's what the agreement says. 

How to dismiss your case

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