When you owe money to a person or business they are called a creditor. If a creditor wants to force you to pay the debt, they must first file in court to get a judgment against you. A judgment is just a piece of paper, called an order, that says you owe someone a certain amount of money. This court document allows the creditor to use legal action to collect that amount of money. Nonetheless, a creditor must first obtain a judgment before collecting money from you.
To Get a Judgment a Creditor Must…
- File a lawsuit in court.
- Serve you a copy of the lawsuit in the various manners allowed by law.
- Go to court at the date and time of your hearing.
- Get a judgment from the court saying you owe a certain amount of money.
- Wait 21 days after the date of judgment.
A creditor files and serves a lawsuit by filing a Warrant in Debt in General District Court. This is a civil case, not criminal. You may never be put in a jail for owing a debt to a creditor.
The Lawsuit Is “Served” (Legally Delivered) on You by One of Three Ways:
- Given to you in person,
- Given to a member of your household that is 16 or older,
- Posted on your front door and then mailed first class to you.
A Creditor Must File the Warrant in Debt in One of Three Different Places:
- The county or city where you now live,
- The county or city where you incurred the debt or the contract was signed,
- Where you agreed in writing you could be sued.
However, in Virginia, you can be sued anywhere in the state, even if you don’t live there or had no actions there. If this happens, at the first hearing, which is listed on the Warrant in Debt served on you, ask the court to move the lawsuit. Do this even if you admit to owing the debt so that you don’t have to keep dealing with this creditor far away from where you live.
Show Up to Court at the Scheduled Date and Time!
Once you receive the Warrant in Debt, you must make sure to attend the listed court date and time. If you cannot make that court date, ask the court for a new hearing date. This is called a “continuance.” Contact that court’s clerk’s office as far ahead of time as you can and ask how you can get a continuance.
If you fail to appear on that court date, the creditor will get a “Default Judgment” against you. A default judgment means the creditor wins by default since you were not there to dispute the debt. Now the creditor has a judgment against you for the full amount they were suing you for.
Judgments obtained in the General District Court last for at least 10 years and may be renewed for an additional 10 years. Judgments in Circuit Court last for 20 years. That means a judgment could last up to 20 years against you! A judgment will go on your credit report and will lower your credit score and hurt your chances at obtaining credit. With this negative impact on your credit score and report, you may be unable to obtain a mortgage or face high interest rates for financing. A creditor may use that judgment to garnish your wages or to “levy” your property. A levy is when the Sheriff comes to your house and makes a list of all of your property that can be sold to pay your judgment. However, most of your personal property may be exempt (free) from levy. Contact an attorney to discuss what property you own that may be exempt.
If a creditor obtains a default judgment against you but you were never properly served, and never knew about the lawsuit, you may be able to get that judgment set aside and new a hearing date scheduled to dispute that debt. If a creditor obtained a judgment against you and is now attempting to garnish your wages or bank account, you should contact an attorney because some or all of your funds may be exempt from garnishment.