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What Is a Preliminary Hearing?

George Simons | February 24, 2023

Summary: If you are fighting a debt collection lawsuit, chances are you have to attend a preliminary hearing. Here is SoloSuit's guide to preliminary hearings, what you can do to prepare for one, and how to respond in the case of a default judgments.

When a person or entity files a debt collection lawsuit against you, you have up to 35 days to respond to the lawsuit, depending on which state you live in. The deadline clock usually starts on the date you received the Summons and Complaint. If you dispute the debt, you'll be required to submit a written Answer document stating your response to each claim and affirmative defenses. Some common examples of affirmative defenses include:

  • You are not responsible for the debt.
  • You already paid the debt in full.
  • The statute of limitations for the debt has expired.
  • The plaintiff has no right to sue you (lack of standing).

After filing the dispute, you may be required to attend a preliminary hearing, which is usually like a mini-trial. During the preliminary hearing, you may request that the plaintiff prove you owe the debt in question. One of the reasons for attending a preliminary hearing is to discuss the case with the judge, plaintiff, or both.

If you dispute the lawsuit, the plaintiff will be required to submit additional details proving that you owe the debt. However, it's important to note that a preliminary hearing is not your final hearing.

During the hearing, the judge or individual presiding over the case may propose different alternatives to solving the case. For example, the idea of mediation may arise during the preliminary hearing.

A mediator is usually a neutral individual appointed to oversee the mediation process. This individual does not make decisions for the parties involved in the debt collection lawsuit. Instead, they help them reach an agreement, document the agreement's terms, and then report to court about it. If the parties involved fail to reach an agreement with the help of a mediator, the matter will proceed to trial.

Lawsuits are usually the last resort when a debt collector fails to find a way to recover the amount you supposedly owe. Normally, they'll try different ways to reach you and negotiate a repayment plan if possible.

Creditors usually avoid lawsuits because they take time and are also expensive. For this reason, if you believe you owe the debt and that the amount is correct, you can always reach out to the creditor to discuss available payment options.

What happens if I don't attend a preliminary hearing?

It's never advisable to ignore a preliminary hearing, or any debt collection Summons for that matter. Ignoring a debt collection Summons won't magically dissolve the case. In fact, it gives the judge a good reason to pass a default judgment against you.

What is a default judgment?

A default judgment is a decision made by the court in favor of one party when the other party fails to respond to a Summons or perform a court-ordered action. For example, in most debt collection lawsuits, default judgments are usually granted to the creditors when debtors fail to respond to the Summons or attend the court hearing.

A default judgment in a debt collection lawsuit comes with serious consequences. For instance, it gives the creditor legal authority to recover the amount owed using every legal means available. This includes wage garnishment, property liens, and freezing bank accounts.

After a default judgment, the creditor may seek to have your employer garnish your wages. To do this, the creditor requests a wage garnishment order from the court, which is then presented to your employer. This is why it's so important to respond to the debt collection Summons and attend all scheduled hearings.

How can I respond to a default judgment against me?

If a default judgment has been entered against you, you may be able to reverse it. The decision to reverse the default judgment is never a guarantee, and that's why it's always advisable to respond to a court Summons and Complaint immediately.

File a Motion to Vacate Judgment

A Motion to Vacate Judgment requests the court to set aside the default judgment. However, for the motion to pass, it must adhere to your state's Rules of Civil Procedure. These rules vary from state to state but generally, they derive from the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Some valid reasons to file a motion to vacate include:

  • Fraud.
  • Void judgment.
  • Judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged.
  • Newly discovered evidence which couldn't have been discovered earlier due to negligence.
  • Mistake, surprise, inadvertence, or excusable neglect.
  • Any other valid reason.

Negotiate with the creditor or debt collector

If you don't have a valid reason to file a Motion to Vacate Judgment, you may try to negotiate with the debt collector.However, by the time the debt collector decides to file a lawsuit against you, they may have already run out of patience with you. This doesn't mean they won't reach an agreement with you, though. In fact, many debt collectors are willing to settle for less than the original debt amount. You can start the settlement negotiation process by sending a SoloSettle.

Settle with SoloSettle

Make an Offer

If you're lucky to have a settlement agreement, you may be required to pay a certain amount as a down payment and then settle the rest as per the repayment agreement.

Some debtors even file for bankruptcy to avoid the complex court processes. This decision isn't usually recommended, but it could be the only option remaining if you can't settle the amount owed. If you decide to file for bankruptcy, it will automatically eliminate any other debt listed in the bankruptcy file.

However, filing for bankruptcy ruins your creditworthiness. This is because a bankruptcy stays on your record for around seven years. When that happens, you'll find it difficult to build your credit, rent an apartment, apply for a mortgage, or be eligible for other forms of financial assistance.

Key Takeaways

A preliminary hearing may not be the official hearing of a case, but it gives both parties a chance to communicate and discuss facts about the case. In a debt collection lawsuit, this hearing also opens the doors for negotiations between the plaintiff and defendant. Avoiding a preliminary hearing, or any court order for that matter, could jeopardize your chance of reaching an agreement with the other party.

However, if the court has already issued a default judgment against you, you still have a chance to convince the court to overturn it. Even though this chance is slim, it still exists. For example, if you were sick or traveling, you could cite that as your defense.

Before you decide to file for bankruptcy, consider other options, such as signing up for a debt relief program. Above all, don't be afraid to negotiate with your creditor - most creditors would rather accept the little you can offer than lose it all when you file for bankruptcy.

What is SoloSuit?

SoloSuit makes it easy to fight debt collectors.

You can use SoloSuit to respond to a debt lawsuit, to send letters to collectors, and even to settle a debt.

SoloSuit's Answer service is a step-by-step web-app that asks you all the necessary questions to complete your Answer. Upon completion, we'll have an attorney review your document and we'll file it for you.

Respond with SoloSuit

"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

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