What is a return date in a lawsuit? Here is what it is not. A return date is not when an answer is due. It is not a date on which anyone is required to go to the courthouse. And, it is certainly not a trial date.

Rather, a return date is merely an arbitrary docketing entry. It defines other timetables in civil cases in the Superior Court. A defendant or his or her attorney must file an “appearance” form within two days after the return date. Otherwise, the defendant could lose the case by default.

In general, no one may formally seek information from the other side before the return date. After that, any party may use document requests, depositions, and other discovery techniques.

Further, except for evictions, the defendant must file an answer or some other recognized response to the complaint within 30 days after the return date. A defendant who wishes to contest the court’s personal jurisdiction must do so within 30 days after the return date. Otherwise, it will become practically impossible to do so.

Who sets the return date? The plaintiff does. The marshal must serve a copy of the summons and complaint more than 12 days before the return date. The plaintiff must file the summons and complaint with the clerk of the Superior Court, together with a report from the marshal, at least 6 days before the return date. And, for reasons no one really knows, a return date must be a Tuesday. No other day of the week will due. If the plaintiff fails to follow these rules, the case could be dismissed.

The return date has several other ramifications, but that overview should reveal the essentials.