A defendant in a lawsuit is served a summons and a complaint, formal legal documents that give the defendant notice that he is being sued, which lay out the claims, facts, legal rationale, and damages or relief sought by the plaintiff, according to the American Bar Association. In some cases, such as domestic relations disputes, the defendant is referred to as the respondent.
Once a defendant is served with a summons and a complaint, he is required to respond within a legally specified amount of time, notes FindLaw. Although different jurisdictions mandate different time periods in which the defendant must respond, the typical response period is approximately three weeks. The defendant’s response, or answer, is a document whereby the defendant either admits to or denies the allegations against him and lays out any specific defenses he may have to the plaintiff’s claims. Failure by the defendant to answer the complaint may result in a default judgment entered by the court in favor of the plaintiff. As part of the answer, the defendant may file a counterclaim against the plaintiff and allege any specific claims that he has against the plaintiff or other potential parties. In response, the plaintiff must answer the counterclaim within the required period of time.