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How to Make a Motion to Vacate Judgment

Hannah Locklear | April 11, 2024

Hannah Locklear
Editor at SoloSuit
Hannah Locklear, BA

Hannah Locklear is SoloSuit’s Marketing and Impact Manager. With an educational background in Linguistics, Spanish, and International Development from Brigham Young University, Hannah has also worked as a legal support specialist for several years.

Fact-checked by George Simons, JD/MBA

George Simons
Co-Founder of SoloSuit
George Simons, JD/MBA

George Simons is the co-founder and CEO of SoloSuit. He has helped Americans protect over $1 billion from predatory debt lawsuits. George graduated from BYU Law school in 2020 with a JD/MBA. In his spare time, George likes to cook, because he likes to eat.

Summary: To make a motion to vacate a judgment, follow these steps: Obtain a form from the court clerk, provide your case details, explain the reason for your request, sign the motion, file it with the court, and attend any hearings that follow.

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.

Respond to avoid a judgment.

You can prevent a judgment by filing a written Answer into your case.

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When should I 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.

Reasons for making a motion to vacate judgment

There are plenty of valid reasons for making a motion to vacate judgment:

  • The information on the lawsuit is wrong.
  • The lawsuit was sent to the wrong person.
  • You already paid the debt.
  • You never got the original lawsuit.
  • You never responded to the lawsuit.
  • You got it and you responded, but you never got notifications on the next steps.
  • Your contract requires the debt collector to try for a compromise (mediation or arbitration) before suing, and they didn't do that.
  • Your contract requires the debt collector to tell you when you miss a payment, and they didn't do that.

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.

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Reasons why you shouldn't make a motion to vacate judgment

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.

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Follow these steps to make a motion to vacate judgment

Sometimes courts speak too soon.

If you recently received a court judgment that you believe was unjust or erroneous, making a motion to vacate judgment might help the court reconsider or set aside its decision due to various factors such as procedural errors or new evidence.

To help you navigate this potentially complex legal procedure, you can follow these steps to make a motion to vacate judgment:

  1. Ask the court clerk for a motion to vacate judgment form.
  2. Enter the details of your case on the form.
  3. Explain the reason for your request.
  4. Sign the motion.
  5. File the motion into the case.
  6. Attend any subsequent hearings.

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. Find your court clerk's phone number and give them a call to make the process of finding the right form easier.

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:

  • Which forms need a signature from the judge or commissioner?
  • Which forms need to be filed with the clerk's office?
  • Which forms need to be mailed to the debt collector?
  • Which forms do you need to keep for yourself?
  • Which forms need to be originals and which can be copies?

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 can give the court the most accurate information regarding a debt claim.

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.

What happens if you don't make a motion to vacate judgment

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:

  • Money can be taken directly out of your bank account. This is called garnishment.
  • Money can be taken out of your wages. The court will tell your employer about your situation, and your employer will be obligated to take out a certain amount of your paycheck every week to send to the debt collector. The maximum amount is 25% after taxes. That's not chump change.
  • Your creditor will be given some rights to your property. For example, when you try and sell your house, any money you would've gotten out of the sale will first go toward paying your debt.
  • The court can order that some of your possessions be sold. For example, if you have extremely valuable jewelry or a fancy car collection, it'll be auctioned off, and the money will go toward paying the debt collector.

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.

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What is SoloSuit?

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.

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>>Read the FastCompany article: Debt Lawsuits Are Complicated: This Website Makes Them Simpler To Navigate

>>Read the NPR story on SoloSuit: A Student Solution To Give Utah Debtors A Fighting Chance

A motion to vacate judgment is also called a motion to set aside judgment

The name of this document may be a motion to vacate or a motion to set aside, depending on where you live. Essentially, the two documents are the same thing but with different names.

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