Vacate a Default Judgment in Texas
If you fail to file an answer to a lawsuit, or if you fail to show up for a hearing, the Court will enter a Default Judgment against you. In fiscal year 2019, 15,908 default judgments were entered in Texas in Debt Claim cases; that is 12% of all civil dispositions – and 30% of all Debt Claim dispositions – recorded in Texas that year. Thankfully, a default judgment can be “Vacated,” and the most important factor to consider when trying to do so is how long ago was the judgment entered.
If the judgment was entered recently – less than 30 days – the best way to have that judgment vacated is to file a Motion for New Trial; however, the motion must be filed within a certain period of time depending upon the State and the Court. For example, if your judgment was entered in a “Justice” Court in Texas, then you only have 14 days to file the motion. If the judgment was in a “County” or a “District” Court in Texas, then you have 30 days to file the motion for new trial.
If the judgment was entered because you did not answer the lawsuit, then the Court would be more likely to grant your motion for new trial and vacate the judgment. However, if you knew of the answer deadline, and simply ignored the situation, the Court may not vacate the judgment. The rules allow for “mistakes,” but they are more critical if the situation was known and no action was taken.
Another way to have a Default Judgment Vacated is by filing a Motion to Vacate Judgment. In Texas, this must be filed within 14 days of the judgment. Essentially, in a motion to vacate, you would be giving the Court a reason to set aside the judgment and keep the lawsuit active. If the Court thinks the reason you have given is a good one, the judgment will be vacated.
The Courts would be more willing to grant a motion to vacate if both parties agree that the judgment should be vacated. This happens more frequently than one may assume, as creditors are often more willing to negotiate a settlement with you.
Many people find out about judgments years later. In these situations, a Bill of Review could be filed within 4 years of the date of the judgment. Typically, a Bill of Review requires significant proof that you were not served with the lawsuit. This is much more difficult to win than a motion for new trial.
Good evidence that you were not served would be proof that you did not live at the residence at the time of service or proof that you were out of town. A Bill of Review is essentially a new lawsuit to attack the judgment.
Default Judgment has been Vacated – What’s Next?
Whether through a Motion for New Trial, a Motion to Vacate Judgment or a Petition for Bill of Review, the Default Judgment has been vacated. This means that the Court has reopened the case – as if nothing happened – and will be setting a hearing sooner or later. Which is why it is crucial, throughout the process of filing the motion and after the judgment has been vacated, to continue talks with the Plaintiff’s attorneys and ensure that a settlement is reached as soon as possible and the case is disposed under terms agreeable to you and the Plaintiff. Having an experienced debt defense attorney by your side will guarantee this outcome.
Remember: Timing is everything. So, if you have just learned about a judgment that has been entered against you, contact us today.