If you’re sued for a debt in Oklahoma, the most important thing you can do is respond and take action. Your debt collection lawsuit will be heard in either a small claims court or district court. If your case is in district court, you need to fill out and file a written answer within 20 days of receiving your summons and complaint. If your case is in small claims court, you may not be able to file an answer form (depending on the court), but you must show up to your hearing with your prepared response and defenses.
Written by Attorney Tina Tran.
Updated January 10, 2024
How Do Debt Collection Lawsuits in Oklahoma Work?
If your debt goes to collections, you’ll receive phone calls and written notices, usually from a debt collector. If these collection efforts aren’t successful, the debt collector may decide to bring a debt collection lawsuit against you.
In Oklahoma, if you are responding to a lawsuit filed against you for up to $10,000, the lawsuit will most likely be filed in small claims court. These courts were designed for regular, everyday people. They’re less formal than other courts and, oftentimes, feel less intimidating to attend without a lawyer.
If your lawsuit is for debt that is over $10,000, your case will most likely be filed in your county’s district court. These courts have more formal rules and procedures, but you do not have to hire a lawyer to successfully represent yourself in a debt lawsuit in a district court.
If you get sued, you’ll be notified with a summons and complaint.
What Is a Summons and Complaint?
A summons and complaint are official court documents.
The summons is issued by the court. It notifies you that a lawsuit has been filed against you and tells you the deadline to respond to the complaint and which court will hear your case.
The complaint outlines the allegations that the plaintiff is making against you. Plaintiff is the legal term for the person suing you. The plaintiff’s claims are usually presented in numbered paragraphs. The complaint will tell you how much the collector thinks you owe and what solution they’re seeking.
Usually, debt collectors are looking for a court-ordered judgment to collect the debt. The judgment amount could include the debt the collector believes you owe, interest that has accrued since your last payment, and any other costs the plaintiff thinks you should cover as a part of the lawsuit, such as legal costs.
How Will You Receive a Summon and Complaint?
The process of delivering court documents is called service. There are certain rules the debt collector has to follow when serving you the summons and complaint.
In Oklahoma, debt collectors have three options for service:
Personal service (hand-delivery) by either a sheriff, sheriff’s deputy, or private process server. They can hand you the summons and complaint anywhere at any time, or they can leave them at your home with anyone who lives there who is at least 15 years old.
Certified mail with a return receipt attached
Publication of a notice in a newspaper in your county of residence at least once a week for three consecutive weeks. Note: This is rare and only allowed if the plaintiff can’t serve you by any other method.
How Do You Respond to an Oklahoma Court Summons for Debt Collection?
If your lawsuit is filed in small claims court, you usually don’t file a written answer. In fact, some courts don’t allow you to file a written answer. Instead, you respond to the court case by showing up to your hearing at the court on the date and time listed in the summons. You should prepare your response to the lawsuit and be ready to present any affirmative defenses you have (more on this below).
If the lawsuit is filed in district court, you must file a written answer with the court. Oklahoma courts do not make blank answer forms readily available online. You can contact the court clerk to get the forms you need.
The summons you receive will include all information on your court date and the instructions for how to proceed with your lawsuit. Pay close attention to the instructions since local court rules and procedures vary.
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How Do You Draft an Answer Form?
Unfortunately, the Oklahoma Courts website doesn’t provide templated answer forms for people who are defending themselves in a lawsuit. This means that if your court requires that you respond to the lawsuit by filing a written answer, you’ll need to draft one yourself. If your court doesn’t require a written answer, the information below could still help you as you prepare for your court date.
Generally, a written answer should include:
Case information (case number, names of the parties, etc.)
A brief response to every allegation on the complaint
A listing and short explanation of any relevant affirmative defenses you wish to raise
Your signature and the date
Sometimes courts require answers to be written in a specific format. Check with the court clerk for specific formatting requirements like font size, margins, and paper size. Also ask if you need to fill out and file any additional paperwork, such as a certificate of service form.
Step 1: Address Each Complaint/Allegation
The complaint you receive will have a list of the plaintiff’s claims against you, typically organized in numbered paragraphs. As you draft your answer, be sure to respond to every claim in the complaint.
For each allegation/claim, you can either: deny, admit, or claim a lack of knowledge.
Admitting the claim means you agree that it’s true.
Denying the claim means you disagree with the claim or don’t believe it’s true.
Claiming you lack the knowledge to admit or deny the claim means you aren’t sure whether or not the claim is true or you need more information before you can admit or deny.
Step 2: Raise Your Defenses and Counterclaims
If you have information about the debt or debt collector that wasn’t included in the complaint and might be a reason for the debt collector to lose the case, you can bring this up as part of your defense. This type of defense is called an affirmative defense.
Here are some common affirmative defenses used in debt collection lawsuits:
Statute of limitations: The law limits how long a creditor can wait to sue you. If they've waited too long, this defense could invalidate the lawsuit.
Mistaken identity: If the debt isn't yours, you can raise this as an affirmative defense to try to get the case dismissed.
Incorrect debt amount: Disputing the accuracy of the claimed amount can challenge the validity of the entire debt.
Prior payment, settlement, or bankruptcy: If you have proof of prior payment or a settlement agreement that shows the debt has been resolved, be sure to include this information in your answer. If the debt is included in a bankruptcy filing, the collector isn’t supposed to sue you for it, but you need to raise this as a defense to let the judge know.
To learn more about affirmative defenses, read: How Do You Answer a Summons for Debt Without an Attorney?
Step 3: Make Copies of All Paperwork
Make at least two copies of your answer/response form. One copy for the plaintiff (or their lawyer), one copy for your records, and the original for the court or judge.
If the court you’re sued in requires you to file a written answer, you’ll need to take it to the court clerk by the deadline listed in the summons. Be sure you also take any other required paperwork, such as a certificate of service form if your court requires it. A certificate of service form is a document that verifies you’ve delivered a copy of your answer to the plaintiff.
Again, it’s best to check with the court clerk to figure out that court’s specific requirements for filing.
Step 4: File Your Forms With the Court Clerk Within 20 Days
If your case is being heard in district court, you must file your answer with the court within 20 days of receiving your summons.
You can usually file your answer form in person at the court or by mail. Check with your court clerk to learn the correct procedure for your court.
If your case is being heard in small claims court, you don’t need to file an answer form. It’s still a good idea to prepare your response and defenses before your court date though.
What Happens After You Respond to the Lawsuit?
In district court, after you file your answer, the court will set a hearing date or trial date. You’ll typically receive notice of this by mail or email, depending on the court.
In small claims court, the summons you receive should include a hearing date and time. You must show up in court for that hearing or you will probably automatically lose the case.
When you show up at your court date, the judge will give you and the plaintiff a chance to discuss the case. The judge will usually encourage you to settle the case before trial. If you don’t settle, the court may proceed with your trial immediately or they may set another date and time for trial. This depends on the court.
Note: If you don’t file an answer on time (for a district court case) or show up for your court date (for a small claims case), the court can enter a default judgment against you. This means you lose the case and are likely to face serious consequences like wage garnishment. More on this below.
How To Prepare for Court Appearances
Going to court may feel a little intimidating. If you’ve never been before, you might not know what exactly to expect. Many people find their confidence increases by spending some time preparing and following some simple best practices.
To have a successful court experience, it’s best to:
Arrive early for your hearing.
Speak respectfully to the judge and other people in the courtroom.
Be organized and bring copies of relevant documents to support your defenses.
Upsolve’s article on What Happens In Small Claims Court has other helpful tips.
What Happens if You Don’t Respond to the Lawsuit?
The most important thing you can do in a lawsuit is acknowledge it and take action. If you ignore a lawsuit, it won’t just go away. Instead, you’ll probably lose the case and the judge will issue a default judgment against you.
A court judgment allows the person or company suing you to request a court order for wage garnishment, a bank account levy, or a property lien. Wage garnishment is the most common, which means your take-home pay will decrease for a period of time. (Though there are legal limits to how much they can take.)
It’s understandable to feel stressed, but you have more power than you think! The main strategy debt collectors use is suing people and hoping they don’t show up or fight the case so they can win by default. Reading this article and learning how to respond gives you a fighting chance to win the debt collection lawsuit. Take a deep breath and fight back. You can do it.
What Do I Do if the Court Already Issued a Default Judgment Against Me?
If a default judgment has already been ordered against you, you can file a motion to vacate the judgment. To vacate means to cancel the judgment ordered.
You have to file the motion to vacate a default judgment within 30 days of the judgment being entered. To be successful, you must have a good reason for missing or being late for the trial and have a valid claim or defense to the lawsuit.
Need Legal Help?
Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma is a non-profit law firm that provides free legal services to eligible low-income OK residents.
OKLegalConnect.org is an online hub with links to legal aid programs and organizations across the state.
OKLaw.org has self-help guides and online resources.
Oklahoma Bar Association Legal Resources provides online resources, clinics, and low-cost (or even no-cost) legal assistance providers across the state.
Community Action Agency of Oklahoma City provides legal assistance to low-income residents of Oklahoma City (plus Canadian and Oklahoma Counties).