What to Do If Facing a Lawsuit or a Judgment In the State of Texas
What is a Lawsuit?
If you're reading this information, you've probably been served with a lawsuit. A lawsuit is a legal proceeding commenced in a court by the filing of a petition. A petition is a legal document asking the Court for relief. After the filing of the petition, the court issues another paper called a citation or summons, and it is "served" upon you, that is, handed to you in person, by a constable or a private process server appointed by the Court.
The purpose of the lawsuit is usually to have a judge determine whether you owe the plaintiff money, and if so, how much. Once someone has a judgment against you, they can use certain legal powers to force you to pay the debt (or at least try). I'll discuss some of these powers later.
Now the type of lawsuits that I'm discussing here involve collections, where you are being sued for a debt. Other types of lawsuits, such as personal injury suits, have similar rules, but I'm specifically discussing only debt collection suits here.
What Is a Judgment?
A judgment is basically a judicial determination that you owe a certain amount of money. It, in and of itself, doesn't harm you. It is a piece of paper. They don't put you in jail for having a judgment against you. Many, many people have unpaid judgments against them, particularly in Texas. However, it can have serious implications for you.
The granting of a judgment against you does show up on your credit report, and can legally stay on your credit report for 10 years, even if it's later paid in full. If paid, then the notation "Paid" should show up, next to the judgment on the credit report. If a judgment is not paid within the 10 years, then it can be renewed by the plaintiff for another 10 years, and so on. Judgments are not always renewed, and frequently become time-barred when they're not collected and not renewed at the end of the first 10 year period.
How Are Judgments Collected?
Unless you have a lot of property, it can be difficult for someone with a judgment against you to collect it from you in the state of Texas. In olden days, people actually moved to Texas to avoid creditors. People in trouble with their creditors would write "GTT" on their cabin doors in chalk, for "Gone to Texas" and the creditors would often give up on collecting the money. The property you're allowed to keep from creditors in Texas is quite extensive.
In Texas, our State Constitution prohibits wage garnishment (by Texas employers), which is the most effective way of collecting judgments against consumers in other states. Your wages can be garnished for child support, and unpaid student loans.
One important thing that happens after someone gets a judgment against you is that they usually record an "abstract" or summary of the judgment in the county real property records. This creates a lien on any non-exempt real estate that you own in that county, and the recording of the judgment also gives public notice that you have a judgment against you. They can also seize non-exempt property through a writ of execution or a writ of garnishment.
One option in dealing with a lawsuit for debt, or a judgment if it's gone that far, is to file a personal bankruptcy. Over 1,000,000 people file personal bankruptcy in the U.S. each year. Yes, even if a creditor already has a judgment against you, it's not too late to file a bankruptcy.
However, there may be other reasons particular to your case that we would want to file your case before a judgment is obtained - so, if you've been served with a lawsuit, and filing bankruptcy is a possibility, please make an appointment to see me or another experienced bankruptcy practitioner ASAP.
As soon as any type of bankruptcy is filed, an automatic stay, or court order goes into effect, that immediately stops all lawsuits and other debt collection actions against you.