How to File for Relief From a Judgment

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A judgment is a legal order signed by a judge after a court hearing for a civil lawsuit. The decision requires a person to pay a specific amount of money to satisfy a debt or pay for certain damages as described in the lawsuit. Credit card companies often file lawsuits to collect unpaid debts. Judgments are very damaging to credit and can lead to bankruptcy. Judgments allow a debt collector to ask the court for permission to garnish the defendant’s back account or wages. Filing a legal action for relief of a judgment is sometimes possible.

Determine if the judgment is a so-called “default judgment.” Default judgments are automatic when people fail to show up in court to defend themselves in civil lawsuits, according to The New York Times. However, the court system allows relief for people who honestly did not know they were defendants in a lawsuit or missed the court date because of a legitimate reason. You can gain relief from the judgment if that applies to you.

Seek assistance from an experienced consumer affairs attorney, if possible. The attorney can file a legal document called a “Motion To Vacate Judgment.” The document serves as an appeal for a default judgment and will stop the creditor from seeking bank or wage garnishment. If you can't hire an attorney, visit your local small claims court and ask a clerk for the motion to vacate forms. The exact filing method varies by the state, but essentially all you're required to do is fill out the forms and submit them to the court. However, the assistance of an attorney is still advisable. Illinois Legal Aid reports that credit card lawsuits and similar suits are usually impossible to win even when you do show up for the court hearing. The motion to vacate provides only temporary relief, as the judge will reschedule the case if he accepts your motion. The judgment stands if the judge denies the motion.

Fill out the motion to vacate form using information sent to you about the judgment, such as the court case number. If you don't have the information, look up the court case using computers available at the courthouse. Ask for the assistance of a court clerk, if necessary. File the motion to vacate with or without an attorney -- if the judgment is a default judgment.

Contact the debt collector directly for relief if a motion to vacate is not possible. Get relief from the judgment by negotiating a payment plan that you can afford. This usually results in paying the entire amount due in installments in exchange for the debt collector agreeing not to garnish your bank account or wages. Or negotiate a lump sum payment to settle the case, possibly for less than the full balance. An attorney can negotiate directly with the debt collector on your behalf, or you can handle it yourself.