Judgment. The word sounds so…negative. And permanent. The truth of the matter is that a party must follow all of the rules in order to obtain a valid judgment. If a party fails to follow the rules, the judgment is rendered void or voidable, depending upon which rules the prevailing party failed to follow. Before we discuss the mechanics of void and voidable judgments, let’s go back to basics: what is a judgment?
Simply put, a judgment is a decision or ruling entered by a court. A more literal definition is that a judgment is a piece of paper, filed with the Court, that gives or awards a prevailing party the relief it is seeking (usually money from the non-prevailing party). A judgment will usually show up on a person’s credit report and can prevent (or, at least, make it more difficult for) a person to: purchase a car; lease a car; lease an apartment; purchase a house; obtain a loan or credit; etc. Judgments can also trigger wage or bank garnishments in an effort to liquidate the judgment (aka a way for the judgment holder to get the money awarded by the judgment from the person against whom the judgment was entered). Oh, and by the way, judgments accrue interest. And in Florida, they are valid for 20 years. And can be renewed.
But wait. There’s more. The right to collect on a judgment can be bought and sold (assigned) to another party. Confusing, I know. Judgments seem like a maze with no end, and attaching to your assets like a leech until your bank account is sucked dry. Am I right? Well. Not exactly. Remember, what your mother taught you: rules were made to be followed. And if a judgment holder did not follow the rules, the judgment may not be as permanent as he or she would like.
Let’s assume that you had a judgment entered against you 6 or 7 years ago for a defaulted credit card. And you made a few payments. And then you stopped. And then your creditor (the judgment holder) issued a wage garnishment against you. You’re stuck forever, right? Well, as lawyers always say: it depends.
Were you properly served?
Was there a default judgment entered? If so, did you receive notice for and/or attend a hearing for the entry of the judgment?
Did the creditor attach the documents necessary to the original complaint or motion for judgment?
Was there fraud?
Some of these reasons could cause the entire judgment to unravel, eliminating the judgment and putting any money taken from you (voluntary payments or garnishment) and potentially put it back into your pocket. These are issues that an experienced consumer attorney can identify and help you to navigate. You may have claims under the FDCPA and FCCPA if there was any type of misleading or fraudulent activity. Again, you need a consumer lawyer. Like me. (Come on, you knew the shameless plug was coming).
Take a look at your documents, and call a consumer lawyer. Talk with them. Ask the lawyer if your judgment is valid, void, or voidable. Ask the lawyer if you are entitled to any reimbursement. Take charge of your financial situation, and let an attorney handle the stress.
Please note that this article is for informational purposes only and does not create an attorney-client relationship, nor does this article purport to give legal advice. Everyone’s situation is different. If you have legal questions, you should contact a licensed attorney. Written by Shera E. Anderson, Esq. in Sunrise, Florida.