February 18, 2021
Summary: In some cases a judgment might not be the end of your debt's story. Learn how to make a motion to vacate a judgment and get another chance at making your defense.
When a court makes a decision against you, you get a document with an official decision in the mail. That's called a judgment. And it can give a debt collector legal power to take your money and property away from you.
Hold up! How did this happen?
If a judgment comes as a surprise to you, you may have been judged unfairly.
That's one reason the court gives you the option to make a motion to vacate judgment. In other words, they give you a chance to convince them to cancel the judgment.
Being sued isn't a good time. Fighting for yourself is exhausting, especially when you feel like the legal jargon is out to get you. This guide will help you get clear on how to make a motion to vacate judgment.
Making a motion to vacate judgment means you ask the court to erase their decision. When you vacate judgment, it will be officially, legally, completely wiped off of your record.
This method only works when the court's decision was made with incorrect or missing information. Maybe there was an error in the lawsuit itself or a blunder in keeping you informed. You get to tell the court how that incorrect or missing information led them to make an unfair judgment against you.
There are plenty of valid reasons for making a motion to vacate judgment:
When someone files a lawsuit against you, there are strict rules about accuracy, fairness, and keeping you informed. You'll find more specifics in Civil Rule 60.
For example, if they mess up communication and the trial happens without you, then you don't get a proper chance to defend yourself. And that's not okay. So, if you make a motion to vacate judgment, it's likely the court will side with you.
Your motion won't work if it's a last-ditch effort. The court isn't going to ignore the facts and let you off the hook. Your reason has to be legitimate. Trying to vacate judgment without a good reason could get you in more trouble.
When you make a motion to vacate judgment without a solid reason backing you up, the court will probably decide that your request is “frivolous” — that it has a weak foundation. On top of paying what you owe, you'll probably end up having to shell out any legal fees the opposing party racked up because of your motion.
The consequences of a judgment are severe and humiliating. The debt collector will suddenly have a lot more power to get money out of you. Here's a list of possibilities:
Having a judgment on your record can be crippling in the long run. It will be on your public record for many years. People may avoid doing business with you. For example, if you need a loan, potential lenders will be less likely to help you out. And if they do, expect a higher interest rate.
These aren't casual consequences. If you have a good reason for vacating judgment, you really ought to take the steps.
First, you're going to fill out a bunch of paperwork. The court should give you all the necessary forms. The types of forms and exact steps you take will be different depending on where you live.
Don't be intimidated! You can ask for help. If you have to do it yourself, here are some good questions to keep in mind as you read the fine print:
Different people will need the same forms, so be prepared to make several copies.
After you file the right forms with the right offices, the court will schedule a date for the hearing. Keep in mind that you have to confirm the hearing, or it could get canceled.
When you show up for the hearing, make sure you have all the right paperwork. If they agree to your motion to vacate judgment — success!
But that's not the end. The court will schedule a new trial for the original lawsuit.
Sometimes it happens immediately after the hearing, so come armed with as much proof as possible. For example, a doctor's note could explain why you couldn't go to the original trial. Or, a debt validation letter can give the court the most accurate information.
This time, you get to defend yourself. That's the whole point of making a motion to vacate judgment. Bring everything you can to convince the court to rule in your favor.
SoloSuit makes it easy to respond to a debt collection lawsuit.
How it works: SoloSuit is a step-by-step web-app that asks you all the necessary questions to complete your answer. Upon completion, you can either print the completed forms and mail in the hard copies to the courts or you can pay SoloSuit to file it for you and to have an attorney review the document.
"First time getting sued by a debt collector and I was searching all over YouTube and ran across SoloSuit, so I decided to buy their services with their attorney reviewed documentation which cost extra but it was well worth it! SoloSuit sent the documentation to the parties and to the court which saved me time from having to go to court and in a few weeks the case got dismissed!" – James
Here's a list of guides for other states.
Being sued by a different debt collector? We're making guides on how to beat each one.
Is your credit card company suing you? Learn how you can beat each one.
Need more info on statutes of limitations? Read our 50-state guide.
Need help managing your finances? Check out these resources.