What Is a Default Judgment?

By Beverly Bird
A default judgment, you, yourself, a lawsuit

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If someone sues you and you do absolutely nothing to defend yourself, the court will order a default judgment against you. It’s the result of inaction – you haven’t filed an answer to the complaint or made any scheduled court appearances. Default judgments occur in civil cases, such as claims for damages and even in divorces.

Result of a Default Judgment

If the court enters a default judgment against you, the order will mostly likely give the plaintiff – the person or entity who sued you – everything he asked for. He initiated and participated in the proceedings while you failed to make any case why the judge shouldn’t rule in his favor. It doesn’t matter that you’re not in court when the judge issues the judgment. You’re still legally bound by its terms.

What You Can Do

If a default judgment has been entered against you, you can file a motion asking the court to vacate or set it aside. You’ll have to act relatively quickly – usually within six months or so after the judge issues the order. You’ll need good grounds, such as excusable neglect or inadvertence. Excusable neglect means you had a good reason for not answering the complaint – maybe you were incapacitated. Inadvertence means you concede that you made a mistake – maybe you didn’t understand you were supposed to do anything. You might also be able to prove the plaintiff never properly served you with notice that he was suing you. If the judge grants your motion to set aside the default judgment, the order goes away and the case is litigated all over again.

About the Author

Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.

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