Summary of Civil Procedures
Talk to an attorney
This page and the supporting pages to which it refers are only the main outline of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. There are many details, procedures and requirements in those rules that cannot be summarized here.
The information on this page is not a substitute for legal advice. You are not required to hire an attorney, but legal matters can be complicated. Consider talking to an attorney to go over your options.
See our Finding Legal Help page for information about ways to get legal help. One way to talk to an attorney is to visit a free legal clinic. Clinics provide general legal information and give brief legal advice. You might also hire an attorney for just part of your case or to do one particular thing, rather than represent you for the whole case. Legal help is also available at discounted rates for people with modest incomes.
For an outline of civil procedures see our flowchart - PDF
For more information about particular types of civil cases, see our pages on:
- Civil Stalking Injunction
- Cohabitant Abuse Protective Order
- Expunging a Criminal Record
- Expunging a Juvenile Record
- Name Change (Adult)
- Name Change (Minor)
The beginning of the case
Filing with the court
For more information, see our page on Filing Procedures.
Juvenile court cases, while technically classified as civil, follow a special process. For more information, see our page on the Juvenile Courts. Except for small claims cases, all civil cases are filed with the district court. For more information and forms about small claims, see our page on Small Claims. For the locations of the district courts, see our Court Directory.
Deadlines. URCP 6
URCP 6 describes how to calculate the time in which to do something. Sometimes the deadline is calculated in business days (days on which the court is open), and sometimes in calendar day (all days, regardless of whether the court is open). For more information, see our page on Filing Procedures.
The party who files the lawsuit is called the plaintiff. In family law cases, like adoption, divorce and parentage, the party who files the lawsuit is called the petitioner. For simplicity, the term “plaintiff” is used on this page, but the term includes petitioners. The rights and requirements for plaintiffs and petitioners are the same. There can be more than one plaintiff.
The party against whom the lawsuit is filed is called the defendant. In family law cases the party against whom the lawsuit is filed is called the respondent. For simplicity, the term “defendant” is used on this page, but the term includes respondents. The rights and requirements for defendants and respondents are the same. There can be more than one defendant.
Complaint (or Petition) and Summons
The first document filed with the court is the complaint. In family law cases the first document filed with the court is the petition. For simplicity, the term “complaint” is used on this page, but the term includes petitions. The summons is a document that directs the defendant to answer the complaint. The plaintiff files the complaint and the summons with the court and has copies of both documents served on the defendant.
URCP 8 requires that the complaint describe, in simple, short and plain sentences the claim showing that the party is entitled to relief and a demand for judgment for specific relief, such as money damages or ordering the defendant to do something or to stop doing something.
The summons must contain:
- the name and address of the court, including the county in which the case is filed;
- the names of the parties;
- the name, address and telephone number of the plaintiff's attorney, if any, and otherwise the plaintiff's address and telephone number;
- the time within which the defendant is required to answer in writing;
- notice that if the defendant does not answer, the plaintiff will seek a default judgment; and
- whether the complaint is on file with the court or will be filed with the court within ten days after service.
The plaintiff must pay the required fee when filing the complaint, or request that the fee be waived. For more information and forms, see our page on Fees and Fee Waiver. The plaintiff must also file a coversheet ( PDF) with the complaint, but the coversheet does not have to be served on the defendant.
If the plaintiff wants a jury trial, and no other party has requested one, the plaintiff must request one and pay the required fee no later than 10 days after service of the last pleading. The request for a jury trial can be made on the coversheet ( PDF).
Serving the complaint and summons. URCP 4
For more information and forms, see our page on Serving Papers.
The plaintiff must have copies of the complaint and summons served on the defendant, but the plaintiff cannot serve the documents personally. Only a person over the age of 18 who is not a party or lawyer in the case can serve the complaint and summons. To be legal, the complaint and summons must be served by delivering the documents:
- to the defendant; or
- to a person of suitable age and discretion residing at the defendant’s residence; or
- to defendant’s authorized agent.
If the defendant’s identity or whereabouts are unknown and cannot be found out, or if the defendant is avoiding service, the plaintiff may file a motion requesting service by alternative means. For more information and forms, see our page on Alternative Service.
The defendant must be served within 120 days after the plaintiff files the complaint. Whoever delivers the documents has to file proof of service. Private investigators, constables and law enforcement officers are experienced process servers, and they will file a proper proof of service.
If the defendant sues someone who is not a party, that is called a third-party complaint, and the defendant must have copies of the third-party complaint and summons served on the third-party defendant in the same manner as a complaint and summons.
Serving other documents. URCP 5
Documents other than the complaint and summons can be served by any method permitted by URCP 5.
The defendant must file an answer after being served with the complaint and summons. For more information and forms, see our page on Answering a Complaint or Petition. If the defendant does not file an answer or an appropriate motion, the plaintiff may ask the court to enter a default judgment. For more information and forms, see our page on Default Judgments.
Disclosures and discovery
Each party has the opportunity to find out about the strengths and weaknesses of the other parties’ case. Some of the information must be disclosed to the other parties, which means the party with the information must provide it to the others without being asked for it. Other information must be discovered, which means the party with the information must provide it, but only if asked for it.
Essentially, a party must disclose to the other parties the information, documents and witnesses that support the party’s claims and defenses. Discovery refers to the procedures by which each party learns about the information, documents and witnesses that the other party does not have to disclose.
Each party must automatically provide additional documents and information as they become known if the information is something that must be disclosed or if information of that type has already been asked for during discovery. If a party fails to provide information that should have been disclosed or fails to provide discoverable information if asked for it, the judge might not allow the party to use that information at trial.
Disclosure and discovery are mixed in time, in approximately the following order:
- initial disclosures;
- fact discovery;
- expert disclosures;
- expert discovery; and
- pretrial disclosures.
For more information, see our page on Disclosure and Discovery.
Mediation or other Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process. Settlement
If the case is not exempt from ADR under Rule 4-510, then the parties must complete the requirements of that rule before the case can be certified as ready for trial. For more information, see our page on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).
If the parties settle their disputes, either with or without mediation, the parties must file a signed stipulation or settlement agreement with the court. The parties must also prepare proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law and a final order for the judge to review and sign, unless they have been waived under URCP 52. Within 15 days after the settlement, the prevailing party must prepare and serve upon the other parties a proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law and order conforming to the court's decision. Objections to the proposed documents must be filed within 5 days after service. The party preparing the documents files them with the court after being served with an objection or after expiration of the time to object. See the requirements for orders in URCP 7. The judge may schedule a hearing to review the settlement agreement with the parties before entering a final order.
Certificate of readiness for trial. URCP 16 and URCP 40
After the close of all discovery, the parties must tell the court that discovery is complete, that any required ADR processes have been completed or excused and that the case is ready for trial. Unless a trial date has already been set, the court will schedule the trial as soon as mutually convenient to the court and parties and notify parties of the trial date and of any pretrial conference.
Pretrial disclosures. URCP26(a)(5)
For the complete list of pretrial disclosures and the time in which to make them, see URCP 26(a)(5). At least 14 days before trial, a party may object to the evidence disclosed by the other party, including the grounds for the objections. If a party fails to object, the objection is waived, other than objections based on relevance.
Pretrial conference. URCP 16
The court may direct the attorneys and the parties to appear for a pretrial conference to discuss settlement and trial management. Any party may request a pretrial conference. In family law cases, like divorce and parentage, the court will probably require a pretrial conference if the parties fail to resolve their disputes through mediation.
Depending on the type of case and whether a jury trial has been requested, the trial may be before a judge or before a jury with a judge presiding. The procedures are essentially the same. For more information, see our page on Going to Court.
Jury selection. URCP 47
The jury in a civil case has eight jurors. The clerk will call a panel of prospective jurors. The judge—or in some cases the lawyers or parties—ask the potential jurors questions about their background and beliefs to find out about any biases or prejudices. A party can ask the judge to remove any juror “for cause” if the juror:
- is not qualified under Utah Code Section 78B-1-105;
- is related to either party or to an officer of a corporation that is a party;
- is a debtor, creditor, guardian, ward, employer, employee, principal or agent of a party;
- has served as a juror or a witness in a previous trial;
- has a monetary interest in the case; or
- is not likely to act impartially.
In addition, each side may remove up to three jurors without stating any reason, also known as “peremptory challenges.”
Each party (or their lawyer) may make an opening statement about the nature of the case, the evidence they will present, and the facts they expect to prove. A party may waive opening statement. The defendant may wait until they present their witnesses and exhibits to make an opening statement.
First the plaintiff calls their witnesses and offers their exhibits. The plaintiff asks each witness questions about what they know about the case. After the plaintiff finishes questioning each witness, the defendant may ask questions of that witness (cross-examination). The plaintiff may then ask further questions (re-direct examination). The plaintiff may also offer exhibits, such as documents, photos and other things. The Utah Rules of Evidence apply.
After the plaintiff has called all of their witnesses and offered all of their exhibits, the defendant may do the same. Examination, cross-examination and re-direct examination occur as before, but with the defendant asking the first questions. The Utah Rules of Evidence apply.
After the defendant has called all of their witnesses and offered all of their exhibits, the plaintiff may call witnesses to rebut, or challenge, any new information introduced by the defendant’s witnesses. The judge may allow surrebuttal (a rebuttal to the rebuttal) by the defendant. The Utah Rules of Evidence apply.
Jury instructions. URCP 51
If there is a jury, the judge will instruct jurors about the law they are to follow. The parties must propose to the judge the instructions that they want given to the jury. See our page on Model Utah Jury Instructions. The parties also prepare a proposed verdict form, which the jurors use to answer specific questions about the case.
Each party (or their lawyer) summarizes the evidence in an effort to persuade the judge or jury to decide the case in their favor. The plaintiff makes closing argument first, then the defendant, and then the plaintiff may respond to the defendant’s closing argument. A party may waive closing arguments.
Jury deliberations and verdict
After closing arguments, the court orders the jury to retire to the jury room to deliberate. At least six jurors must agree on the answer to all of the required questions on the verdict form, but they need not be the same six on each question. When six or more jurors have agreed on the answer to all required questions, the foreperson signs the verdict form and advises the bailiff that the jury has reached a verdict.
Judgment. URCP 54
After the verdict or after the judge has decided the facts in a bench trial, the court will enter a judgment.
Final Order. URCP 7 and URCP 52
Either at the end of a trial or when the parties have reached a settlement, the prevailing party must prepare findings of fact and conclusions of law and an order for the judge to review and sign, unless they have waived under URCP 52. Within 15 days after the court's decision, the prevailing party must prepare and serve upon the other parties proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law and order conforming to the court's decision. Objections to the proposed documents must be filed within 5 days after service. The party preparing the documents files them with the court after being served with an objection or after expiration of the time to object.
Either party may appeal a final order or judgment. For more information, see our page on Appeals.
Collecting the judgment
A judgment entitles the judgment creditor to money, but if the judgment debtor does not voluntarily pay the judgment, the creditor must take steps to collect it. The creditor can have the debtor's non-exempt property seized and sold. For more information and forms, see our page on How to Collect a Judgment.