A general appearance is made when a party first comes into court and appears in the case. The party may come for any reason that recognizes the authority of the court. Some states follow common law and do not consider a general appearance made when a party comes into court purely to challenge the court’s personal jurisdiction over the defendant – this is instead known as a special appearance. The distinction is notable because in these states a general appearance is considered consent by the defendant to personal jurisdiction, and thereby waives the defendant’s right to challenge personal jurisdiction or service of process. However, Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure abolished the distinction between general and special appearances in federal courts, and many states also adopted this modification.
A general appearance typically is made the first time an attorney appears in court as an authorized representative of the client. However, any act by a party that recognizes the pending action as valid and proper can be considered a general appearance. Moreover, a general appearance can include an attempt by a party to seek any affirmative action from the court, or to seek the court’s judgment on a question beyond that of jurisdiction. For example, opposing a motion on its merits is considered a general appearance. The actual intent of the party in making an appearance does not affect whether the court will consider it to be a general appearance. Jurisdictions may specify certain exceptions as to what constitutes a general appearance.
Each jurisdiction has a statutorily prescribed time period in which a general appearance must be made after service of process is complete. If a general appearance is not made by the defendant within this time period, the plaintiff will receive a default judgment. Each defendant must make a general appearance. After an attorney has appeared in court on behalf of a client, that attorney is responsible for all future appearances in court unless there is a substitution of attorneys or a court order releases the attorney.
[Last updated in June of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]