What Happens After a Default Judgment?

By Contributing Writer
A defendant has approximately 20 to 30 days to respond to the complaint.
FPG/Retrofile/Getty Images

For a plaintiff, a default judgment means a quick end to a potentially long civil court battle without having to go to court. For a defendant, a default judgment means that the case is over and he lost. A default judgment is granted by the presiding judge after the defendant doesn't answer --- in writing --- to the complaint or lawsuit filed against him. A default judgment can have devastating consequences for the defendant.

Court Record Entry and Credit Reports

After a default judgment is granted, it is entered into the local county court records where the lawsuit was filed. This means that the judgment, along with other court documents such as the plaintiff's complaint, is available to the public to view. In other words, a friend or enemy can view the default judgment without the defendant's knowledge. In addition, the default judgment is placed on the defendant's credit report. Typically, the judgment stays on the credit report for approximately 7 to 10 years. As a result, the defendant's credit rating can dramatically drop, because a judgment is considered negative by all the credit-reporting agencies. For example, some creditors may require the debt be paid before credit such as a mortgage is given to the defendant.


Depending on the type of damages the plaintiff was seeking in the lawsuit, a hearing is scheduled. This means that a defendant has to show up to court even though she didn't respond to the lawsuit. For example, if the plaintiff such as a credit card company was seeking a monetary amount, then a hearing would not be scheduled. However, if damages the plaintiff seeks to recover are property such as a house or clothing, then the hearing is scheduled. The purpose of the hearing is to find out the value of the property and the defendant's source of income.


A plaintiff seeking money has the right to garnish a defendant's wages if the local court grants a writ of garnishment. Once the writ is granted, the plaintiff submits the information to the defendant's employer. The employer deducts the money from the defendant's paychecks until the debt is satisfied. If the defendant doesn't work, then the plaintiff can garnish his bank account. This means that money in his savings or checking account is given to the plaintiff to satisfy the judgment.


After a default judgment, a defendant can seek to vacate the default judgment. This means that he must file documents to show cause as to why the judgment should be set aside. However, the defendant must have a legal reason such as a lack of personal jurisdiction before the judgment is vacated.