If you get sued by a creditor, you have to be aware of some basic civil procedure rules. The first thing to do is to make a note of the date that you are served. If you are served by personal service, you have 21 days to respond to the complaint. If you are served by certified mail, you have 28 days to respond.
Your response to the complaint is in the form of an answer. You have to respond to each numbered allegation of the complaint. A standard response for most allegations can be as simple as this: “Neither admit nor deny but leave plaintiff to their proofs.” You answer can also set forth affirmative defenses. I often use the following: “Defendant reserves the right to add affirmative defenses as they become known through discovery.”
The important thing is to make sure that your answer is filed before the 21st or 28th day after you are served. You have to send your original answer to the clerk of the court and send a copy to the attorney for the plaintiff.
After your answer is filed, the clerk will schedule your case for a pre trial conference or for trial. If you don’t have a defense to the claims, there really is no point in showing up for the conference or the trial. The judge will enter a default judgment against you.
Once the judgment is entered, the plaintiff has to wait 21 days before they can execute on the judgment. The most common form of execution is a garnishment.
After the 21 day period runs, the plaintiff can request the court to issue a writ of garnishment. The garnishment can be served on your employer or your bank. You will receive a notice of the garnishment. You have 14 days to file an objection to the garnishment or to file a motion requesting that the court enter an order allowing you to make installment payments on the judgment. More on those in another post.
The most important thing to keep in mind when you get served is to keep track of the date of service and the date that any judgment is entered against you. Those are 2 key dates that your attorney will want to know.
The other thing to remember is that if you are filing bankruptcy, the judgment is just going to be another unsecured debt. In most cases, the whole point of answering the complaint is to buy some additional time to get your affairs in order and get all your information together to file your bankruptcy.