If you still cannot pay your bills, a creditor may file a lawsuit against you. The creditor will serve you with court papers called a summons and a complaint. The summons gives you information about what you need to do. The summons will inform you of required things such as filing an appearance, as well as when and where this must be done.
The complaint tells you how much money your creditor claims you owe. If you are served with court papers, you should try to contact an attorney to see if you have a defense. You have the right to appear in court either on your own or with a lawyer to tell your side of the story. If your only defense is that you dont have enough money to pay your bills, you wont win. If the money is truly owed and there is no valid defense, there is little that you or a lawyer can do.
Things to consider if a creditor has started a case against you
If you received notice that someone has started a court case against you, you have a few options of what to do.
Option 1: Resolve the issue without going to court
There are other options besides going to court that cost less and are faster.
- Settle: Come to an agreement with the creditor on your own. You have more control of the outcome because a judge is not making the final decision.
- Mediation: Some courts require that you and the creditor go through mediation. Mediation allows you and the creditor to reach an agreement with the help of a neutral third party. The mediator does not decide what happens. The mediator helps you reach an agreement that is documented in a contract that both parties must follow.
- Arbitration: You should check your credit contracts to see if your creditors require arbitration instead of going to court. Arbitration allows a neutral third party to make a decision after hearing what you and the creditor have to say. Arbitration is less formal than a court trial, but the outcome is legally binding and enforceable against the you and the creditor. This is similar to a decision made by a court.
Option 2: Do nothing
You can choose to do nothing if you received notice that someone has started a lawsuit against you. However, you should know that:
- The court may enter a default judgment against you. This means that the person who filed a court case against you may get what they asked for. For example, if the person says you owe them $300, the court may order you to pay the $300 because you were not there to explain why you do not owe the money.
- If the court enters a default judgment against you and you want to challenge it, you must file court forms asking the court to vacate the default judgment. You should file the forms within 30 days of the date on the default judgment or it will be harder to get rid of the default judgment.
Option 3: Respond to the court papers and participate in the court case
You can have your day in court.
- You must respond to the court papers you received if you want to go to court, tell your side, and have a court decide what happens.
- To respond you must file an Appearance Pro Se form and an Answer with the court. Pro se means that you are going to court on your own without a lawyer.
- Keep in mind that it costs time and money to file an Answer in court. Court cases may take several months or even years to finish. Court cases often include: fees to file your case, fees to pay a lawyer, and time spent in court which may be time you have to take off of work.
1. Fill out forms
Fill out and sign the below forms with this program that will automatically create the forms for you. Make 3 copies of each form when you are done.
- Appearance: Tells the court and the other party that you are participating in the court case on your own without a lawyer. It also tells the court and the other party if you want your case to be decided by a judge or a judge and a jury.
- Answer: If you are being sued for $10,001 or more, you must file an Answer. This is a written response to the court stating whether you agree or disagree with the reasons the other party used to sue you. This response is also where you raise affirmative defenses or reasons the other party should not win and counterclaims that you have against the other party about the issues in the court case. To learn more about this, check out Responding to a court case.
- Note: Before you fill out and file your Answer, talk to an attorney about filing a Motion to Dismiss. You might have a legal reason to have the Complaint dismissed. You should also ask about a Motion to Quash. This is if you have a legal reason to challenge way you received the court papers.
- If you are being sued for $10,000 or less, you usually don't have to file an Answer unless the judge asks you to.
There is a fee to file most forms. The cost depends on the type of case you have and the county where you are filing. Contact your local circuit clerk's office for information on the fees.
If you do not have money to pay court fees, use the Application for Waiver of Court Fees program.
2. File your forms with the court
Now that you have filled out your forms, you need to file them with the clerk. The method you are required to use depends on the county where you are filing.
- E-filing: Most counties require you to file your forms and documents electronically. See E-Filing Basics for more information.
- Paper filing: If your county allows paper filing, or you have an E-filing Exemption Certificate, take your completed forms to the circuit court clerk's office in the courthouse. See courthouse locations. The clerk will stamp your forms. This stamp is important because it's proof that you filed the form with the court. They will give you a copy for your records.
File the following forms:
3. Send a copy of your Appearance and Answer forms to the other parties
After you file your forms, you need to take the following actions:
- Send a copy of your stamped Appearance and Answer forms to all the other parties in the case. If a party has a lawyer, send a copy to the lawyer. You can find contact information for the other parties in the case on the other documents that have been filed in the court case;
- Send the copies in the way you said you would on the Answer form, whether that was by hand delivery, by mail, or by email. You may only send the forms by email if the other party has agreed or you are sending it to the other party's attorney;
- Send the copies of your forms by 5:00 pm on the same day you file them with the circuit clerk; and
- Keep one copy of each court stamped form for your records.
Updated: December 2017