Court papers can be confusing, and scary, but ignoring them is only going to make things worse. Responding as soon as possible will help lessen the costs further down the road, give you more negotiating room later, and may allow you to protect funds in your bank account.

Two situations that we often see are when a client’s funds have been garnished or a default judgment has been granted against them. Once that happens, it is hard to get the money back or get the judgment overturned.

Of course, our first advice is to hire an attorney to assist you in fighting these cases, however, we understand that these court cases are often filed at the worst possible time, when you are already behind on bills.

The most important thing you can do is respond as soon as possible in the manner directed in the court pleading.

For example, if your bank account or paycheck is garnished, carefully read the “Notification of Rights” document served with the writ of garnishment. This means you must follow all of the steps listed, file the “Exemption Claim” papers included in the notice with the court, and provide a copy to the plaintiff’s lawyer listed on the pleading within the time frame listed on those papers. Calling the creditor or plaintiff’s attorney is not sufficient. Once the garnishment exemption period is passed, it is very difficult to get that money back or stop future garnishments of your account or paycheck.

If you receive a summons and complaint, even if it has no case number, you must respond in writing sent to the plaintiff’s attorney as directed in the Summons, and file with the court if it is a filed case (has a case number in the caption). Once the period for your response is over, and you have not filed an appearance or an answer, the plaintiff can seek a default judgment against you. Again, once the judgment is filed, it is very difficult to get it overturned. You can still attempt to settle the debt, but the judgment will remain on your record. Filing a notice of appearance or answer will slow the process down, and allow you to seek legal counsel.

Responding on time and in the manner stated in the pleadings will give you time to find a lawyer to help you fight your case, or give you time to negotiate a settlement that may allow you to get the lawsuit dismissed before a judgment is filed.

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