Having a court's judgment against you as part of your public record can be extremely difficult, especially if it's related to a lawsuit for collections on an unpaid debt. Fortunately, there are ways to be free from a judgment, and there are many reasons to do so.
What Is a Judgment?
If you lose the lawsuit or fail to show up and defend yourself, the judge will enter a judgment against you. When this judgment is entered, you will have to pay an amount that the court determines, or else you could face wage garnishment, accruing interest, or a lien on your property.
What Are My Options for Vacating a Judgment?
Vacating a judgment is essentially getting the court to take back its prior decision. This can be done in one of two ways:
- File An Appeal: With this option, you are filing an appeal with the appeals court to void the lower court's judgment. This option is best suited if you showed up in court to defend yourself but lost on the merits (facts and law) of your case.
- Ask the Court to Vacate Your Judgment: You would select this option if you received a default judgment because you didn't show up in court to fight the charges brought against you.
How to Vacate Judgment
To begin, you will need to file a motion to vacate, which is a written document that specifically explains your case and why the prior judgment should not stand. To file, you must go in person to the courthouse where the original hearing took place. Bring your motion to the court clerk and be prepared to pay a small filing fee and fill out more forms.
The clerk is there to help you, so ask questions if you have any. After you file, you should receive notice of the newly scheduled court date to prove your case. Your motion to vacate should include all the identifying information of your case, such as case name, court reference number, and all the relevant parties.
It should also include one of the following reasons for vacating the judgement:
- Failure To Show: If you had a good reason for not attending the original hearing and a default judgment was entered against you, explain to the court why that happened, especially if circumstances were beyond your control. If you didn't receive a summons and complaint, for example, it might not be your fault that you didn't attend your hearing.
- Lack of a Hearing: If you responded to the summons and complaint, but the court issued a judgment without a hearing, this is a reason to vacate because it is your legal right to have a hearing to defend yourself. If the hearing took place, but you had a valid reason for not attending, you can also explain that information. Try not to use frivolous excuses.
- Other Reasons the Case Should Be Dismissed: These can include but are not limited to: the collection agency never properly validating your debt, the creditor's interest rates were more than your state's limits, etc. It is best to seek an attorney's guidance if you choose a more technical defense such as these.
Attempt to Reach a Settlement
If you have compelling evidence that the creditor or collection agency did not follow the law in collecting their debt, they may offer a settlement to avoid going to court. Before accepting an offer for settlement, make sure you get the entire agreement in writing. Also, have the plaintiff file the paperwork to get the lawsuit dismissed and contact the credit bureaus and other collection agencies to update your information.
Attend Your Court Hearing
If the plaintiff does not offer to settle, you must attend your hearing. It is not uncommon that a representative from the collection agency won't attend, which means you will win your case and get a default judgment. If the plaintiff does attend, you will have to state your case.
What If I Can’t Get a Vacated Judgment?
If you cannot successfully vacate the judgment, there are a few other ways to take care of it, which are still much better options than having your wage garnished or a lien on your property. Those options include paying the amount owed in full (which results in a satisfied judgment), negotiating a settlement, or filing for bankruptcy to discharge the judgment. You should discuss the benefits and disadvantages of each option with your attorney.
Our Debt Protection Lawyers Are Here to Assist You
Our highly- knowledgeable attorneys at Fitzgerald & Campbell have many years of valuable experience in successfully representing clients in debt collection suits. If you are being sued by collectors for unpaid debt, then turn to our reliable legal team so we can leverage our firm’s resources to give you the best chance of vacating the debt collection judgment.
To learn more about the debtor protection and debt settlement services we offer to consumers and small business, please reach out to us at (844) 431-3851 or contact us online to set up your free case consultation.