What is a Warrant in Debt? As a bankruptcy lawyer here in Alexandria, Virginia dealing with Warrant in Debts is something that I am all too familiar with. A Warrant in Debt is simply a legal document that advises you that someone, called the plaintiff, is suing you in court for money that they claim are owed to them. You are being taken to court in other words.
Once a Warrant in Debt is filed it usually means that a judgment and possibly a garnishment is not too far behind!
What should you do when you receive a Warrant in Debt? Take a look at the upper right hand corner of the Warrant in Debt. There you will find a date, known as the “return date”, which advises you of the day and time that you are being summoned to appear in court. At that point you have a choice, deal with this matter on your own, or contact a lawyer.
What happens when I go to court on the “return date”? The judge will eventually call the case at which time you simply want to tell him or her that you do not believe you owe this money and that you want to set this case for trial. I repeat: do not admit that you owe the money if you want a trial date. At that point a trial date will be given, typically about 8 weeks down the line and usually “pleadings” will be ordered as well. Meaning, the judge will state that the plaintiff is obligated to file Bill of Particulars by such and such a date, and that you, the defendant, the person being sued, must respond in kind with Grounds of Defense, by a certain date.
The Bill of Particulars is simply a document in which the plaintiff lays out his version of the facts to support his claim that money is owed to him. The Grounds of Defense is a written response to the assertions made by the plaintiff. In this document you are supposed to admit or deny each of those assertions made by the plaintiff and also introduce any affirmative defenses you may possibly have. Bottom line: be sure to file your Grounds of Defense with the court and mail a copy to the plaintiff. Failure to do so my result in a judgment being entered against you even before the trial date.
What happens if I ignore the Warrant in Debt and do not go to court on the date specified in the Warrant? If you do not go to court then you just made the plaintiff’s life very easy. At that point, a judgment will be entered against you by the judge. What’s a judgment? It is a legal determination by the court that you now do in fact owe the money to the plaintiff. Once a judgment has been entered your credit score takes a major hit. In addition, you have now opened up the door for the plaintiff to begin garnishing your bank accounts, or better yet, garnishing your wages. The person who sued you can now also record that judgment in the county where you live, thereby creating a judgment lien on your property. That last part, the judgment lien on your home, is something that not even bankruptcy may be able to help you with.
How will I find out about the Warrant in Debt? Since a lawsuit is obviously a very serious matter, after the Warrant in Debt is filed with the court, service of process must be executed. What does that mean? That means that you must be legally served with the Warrant in Debt. That means that the Warrant in Debt cannot be merely mailed to you, but rather, the Warrant must either be handed to you by the Sheriff or a third party process server, or it must be posted on the main entrance to your home. The court wants to make sure that you know that someone is suing you and they figure that if someone like the Sheriff personally delivers the Warrant to you or at least tapes it to your front door then you will know you are being sued.
Will I always be aware of the Warrant in Debt? In other words, will you always know when someone is suing you? You would think the answer is a resounding “absolutely,” but in fact, there are many instances where the individual will not find out about the Warrant in Debt/the lawsuit until months or even years down the line. All of a sudden, seemingly out of the blue, they will come to find out that their bank account has been frozen or their wages are being garnished. Then, upon further inquiry, they will discover that Capital One or some collection agency for instance took them to court 14 months ago and got a judgment in their absence.
What happens many times is that the company taking you to court will accidentally, or perhaps not so accidentally, rely on a outdated address of yours in order to serve you with the Warrant in Debt. They then go to court claiming that you were property served with the lawsuit, and voila, a judgment is entered.
Is there any way to undo a judgment that was entered against me without my knowledge? Yes! If you can prove that you were served at a “bad address” like your former residence, place of employment, etc. and not your current address where you reside, then a Motion to Vacate the Judgment might be in order. If successful, the judge can determine that the judgment against you should be removed.
I fought the Warrant in Debt as hard as I could but a judgment was still entered against me, now what? Well, if there is no sense in appealing this matter from General District Court (which is where Warrant in Debts are filed) to the Circuit Court since you clearly owe this money and have no viable defenses, if you are not “judgment proof,” and if you have a significant amount of debt in addition to the amount you are being sued for, then bankruptcy at this point is certainly something you will want to consider. When all else fails, you have the “nuclear option” at your disposal, which will typically wipe out almost all of your creditors.