A complaint to foreclose mortgage is filed in the Chancery Division. The entity suing is the "plaintiff" and you are a "defendant." There may be other defendants - for example, your spouse who is not on title, the holder of the second mortgage, or unknown owners and occupants. Once a case is filed, it becomes part of the public record. Even before you are served with the summons and complaint, you may begin to receive letters from individuals offering to buy your home. Be careful - some people offering to help are attempting to perpetrate a "foreclosure rescue scam."
Service of process
A sheriff's deputy or private process server will deliver the summons and complaint to you or leaves it with a family member who lives with you (the family member must be at least 13 years old). Sometimes a notice will also be mailed to you. If the plaintiff is unable to serve you after repeated attempts, the plaintiff can still obtain service via "publication" in a newspaper of general circulation. You do not have to see the notice for service to be valid, so you may be served and not even know it.
Response to complaint
After receiving the summons, you have 30 days to file a written appearance (a fee applies) and an answer or other responsive pleading, such as a motion to dismiss. An appearance, without more, is insufficient. If you do not also file an answer to the complaint or a responsive pleading (such as a motion to dismiss) in this time period, you are technically in default.
Case management - one to two months
The next step is the case management date. At this time, the attorney for the lender will go to court to update the judge regarding the status. If you would like to try the mediation program, you should attend court on this date to let the judge know.
Motion for judgment of foreclosure and sale - two to three months
If you have not responded to the complaint, the bank will file a motion for judgment and send the motion along with a "notice of motion" to you. The notice will direct you to appear in court. If you do not go to court, a default judgment may be entered.
If you did not file your answer and appearance, you can ask the judge for an extension of time to file them. Also, if you are working on a modification, short sale, or similar arrangement with the bank ("loss mitigation"), you can inform the judge and ask the judge for additional time to work on those issues. The extension of time is not indefinite- the judge will expect that you will make progress at some point. Also, remember that the bank is not obligated to give you a modification or approve a short sale. If your loss mitigation efforts are unsuccessful, at some point the judge will stop granting continuances and simply enter a judgment of foreclosure of sale.
Judgment of foreclosure - four to six months
In many cases, a judgment of foreclosure is entered because there is no dispute. In others, loss mitigation efforts have not succeeded. If you are still attempting loss mitigation, you can still attempt to sell the property or do a workout with the bank in the next three months, known as the "redemption period."
Sale - seven to nine months
When the redemption period expires, the property can be sold. You will get a notice about the sale date. If you need more time (for example, you have sold the property and a closing date is imminent), you can file a motion for additional time prior to the sale.
Court approval - eight to eleven months
Next, the court must approve the sale and enter an order giving you 30 days to move out (order of eviction). (In certain circumstances, you may also get 30 days to exercise a "special right to redeem.") Once the order is entered, you can appeal to the appellate court (provided, of course, you have a good reason).
Eviction - nine to twelve months
During the 30-day period after the order of eviction is entered, you can possibly file a motion for an extension (assuming, again, you have a good reason for doing so). You should file your motion before the time to move expires.
Get help if you need it
Court procedure can be complicated, particularly in the area of mortgage foreclosures. Don't hesitate to seek help if you need it. The Chancery advice desk offers free assistance to qualifying pro se litigants.
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