April 06, 2021
Summary: First of all, thank you for your service. Now find out how to respond to debt collectors who try to take legal action while you're serving your country. Learn how the SCRA protects you and how to use it as a defense.
Finding that you are on the way to receive a default judgment for a case in court can be devastating. Whether you did not know about the lawsuit due to not being at your home, you were unable to handle it, or you were deployed on military service, there are many reasons why you may have not responded to a lawsuit.
If you are a member of the armed forces, then you are protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The SCRA ensures that before a default judgment is placed against you, the person filing must file a military affidavit. This means that the SCRA can stop a default judgment.
The primary purpose of the SCRA is to ensure that legal and financial burdens do not fall on active military members while in the line of duty. The SCRA works to allow military members to devote their energy to the defense of the United States.
Overall, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) protects those in the military when it comes to being sued, or being required to present in court. Known as an SCRA affidavit, military affidavit, nonmilitary affidavit, or affidavit of military duty, this document is required to show proof of military status before you go to court.
Typically, a default judgment is assigned because the defendant does not show up in court or respond to a summons. In this case, generally, a default judgment can be entered against them. When it comes to those serving in the armed forces, most often they may have not responded due to being on active duty. Because of this, the SCRA protects servicemembers from default judgments in certain cases.
Although most often a default judgment is related to a debt owed, it can also be related to evictions, foreclosures, child support, repossessions, family laws, and even decrees.
If you come back from active duty to a default judgment, you do have options. After being released from active duty, you have 90 days to ask the courts to remove the default judgment against you. You can challenge the judgment and request to set aside the order under the SCRA. Oftentimes, state law can also offer you more time or additional rights.
If a lawsuit is filed against you, then you have the right to due process of law. This essentially means that if you have not been able to appear in court, you have the right to do so.
Regardless of what has happened and why the lawsuit was brought against you, everyone deserves their day in court. If you make an appearance in court and lose, then a court order or judgment can be entered against you.
It is good to understand that the SCRA will only protect you for one of two reasons:
If you appear in the case and take a role in your defense, then any judgments cannot be removed. Even if you have a lawyer take action in your case, that is considered the same as you taking an active role and responding. In this case, the SCRA cannot legally stop a default judgment. And you can not challenge it.
If your dependent spouse was at home while you were deployed, there are options and risks. But overall you are protected by the SCRA. After 90 days of being home from deployment, you should have filed to ensure that you use the SCRA as a defense to revoke your default judgment.
If the default judgment order was entered in violation of the SCRA, you should always challenge its validity. This essentially means you will need to request the default judgment be “reopened.”
If you never received the judgment notice to begin with, then you should also request an immediate stay of the garnishment. This can help to prevent your wages from being garnished if they haven't already. If your default judgment has been revoked but your wages have already been garnished, then you should object to the garnishment. You will most likely need to attend a hearing until you get your restitution.
Oftentimes in the case of divorce, your partner may take another step to obtain property by going to the courts. If you have been deployed and are given a notice that your personal property is to be seized, you might panic. Especially if you come to find that the property being seized is in your possession.
You cannot be penalized if the conditions of your military service make it impossible (or difficult) to fulfill this court order. You legally may request that the court issue a “stay” enforcement, meaning that until you return you will not have to relinquish this property.
Requesting to be issued a stay enforcement is especially helpful if there is an order against you requiring you to pay for something. This can eventually lead to wage garnishment if not taken care of. Often there is the option to use a military legal assistance attorney to assist you with this request, but regardless, you must respond to court orders. Even if you can not comply with the orders, you want to avoid contempt at all costs.
Respond to a default judgment with proof of your deployment. You should state how your military duties materially affect your ability to appear, the starting date that you will be able to appear, as well as a statement from your commanding officer stating that your military duty prevents appearance. This should be more than enough to revoke your default judgment and allow you to handle it once you return.
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.