Everything you need to know about vacating a judgment (and getting it off your credit report!)

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Is your credit report relatively clean, except for one big, ugly item that won’t go away – a judgment? It’s a fact of life that some disputes – with landlords, collection agencies and other debtors – sometimes end up with a judgment against you. If that’s the case, we have good news, as it may be possible to have a judgment against you dismissed (called ‘vacated’) and thereby expunged from your credit report.

When successful, having a judgment vacated (and removed from your credit report) is the same as voiding it like it never happened, erasing the negative item on your credit report. That outcome can only be achieved through an appeals process, starting with a motion to vacate the judgment.

In this two-part blog, we’ll cover all the basics you need to know about the legal process to vacate a judgment, and then how to get it off your credit report.

Please note that we are not attorneys or legal experts, so this advice should be taken as general education from a credit scoring perspective. Consult legal counsel if you have serious issues with judgments.

Dismissing a Judgment; an overview

First off, what is a judgment? A judgment is the legal decision of a judge and therefore the court stating that the person suing (plaintiff) is in the right, and therefore the person being sued (defendant) is wrong. The court also states a remedy the defendant needs to perform to right that legal wrong, such as the amount of money to be paid in fines or any other actions.

For instance, when landlords go to court to evict a tenant and win a judgment, the court issues a written writ of restitution that’s given to the sheriff so that they can evict the non-paying tenants.

What can you do if someone gets a judgment against you?

While some people may be intimidated by the prospect of filing a motion to dismiss a judgment, it’s no different than filing an appeal if you’re not happy with the outcome of a trial. But the key element is that there needs to be some compelling and factual reason why the court should overturn the previous ruling (the judgment), which will be documented in your motion.

These reasons usually stem from the fact that whoever filed the lawsuit against you didn’t follow the correct procedures to the letter of the law. A judgment may be won on a technicality, but that doesn’t mean it’s the fair and lawful outcome, and that’s why the courts have a process for appeals.

According to legal experts, the two main reasons why judgments are won are:

  1. The defendant fails to respond to the court summons within the defined period of time or with the proper paperwork.
  1. The defendant doesn’t appear at all on the court date, which means the Plaintiff wins by default.

Motion and Declaration to Vacate Judgment

If you want to file a motion to vacate a judgment against you, the first thing to do is to write up that motion. It’s a simple court document that declares to the judge what compelling reasons exist for him or her to reverse their original ruling and vacate the judgment. Of course, you’ll want to identify your case by the court reference number and case name, as well as the plaintiff involved.

The most important part of your motion is the explanation why it is valid so the judgment should be vacated. What legal reasons do you have that the judge didn’t know about, overlooked, have appeared, etc. for the judgment to be vacated. This shouldn’t be about personal circumstances or hardships (those are legally irrelevant) but a procedural defense. Like we mentioned above, defendants often lose because they didn’t respond to the summons and complaint on time or didn’t show up for the hearing.

Your motion may include information like:

  • You weren’t served with a summons and complaint –
  • You did respond to the summons and complaint in time, but a judgment was issued anyway without a hearing.
  • You were not able to answer the summons and complaint or appear at the show cause hearing because…..(give them some valid and compelling reason that you can back up with documentation)

The motion will also include a brief explanation outlining your defense, which might include:

  • Violations of the lease/contract with the plaintiff that made it void.
  • The fact that the collection agency never responded to your request for validation, proving the debt was truly yours, as per the FDCPA.
  • Failure to provide necessary documentation and paperwork.
  • The interest rate of the debt exceeded your state’s usury interest limits.

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Look for part two of this blog where we’ll cover how to file your motion, the subsequent court process, and what to do when you are victorious in order to get the judgment stricken from your credit report!

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