I have recently heard tales in the media of the return of “debtor prisons”. The stories involve the arrest of a debtor based on a failure to pay a debt. On their face the stories are true but avoidable. A review of the civil judgment collection process is required by way of explanation.
First, a complaint with an attached summons is delivered to your door by a sheriff. This is the document that starts the civil collection lawsuit. The summons advises you that you have a limited period of time, usually twenty days, to answer the complaint.
If you do not answer the complaint the creditor may then request that a judgment enter “by default” based on your failure to respond. Once the judgment enters you will be notified of its entry and advised that you have thirty days to pay the amount recited in the judgment.
If no payment is made the creditor can ask the court to compel your appearance to explain why you have not paid the debt. This is the time to start paying attention. The document that is generated by the court at this stage in the proceeding requires your personal appearance at the court. If you do not show up at the date and time on the notice trouble begins.
After a judgment enters, do not ignore a “show cause order” from a state trial court. If you do not appear at the hearing you will be subject to a civil arrest warrant which will result in your arrest and transportation to jail pending a court appearance.
In order to avoid the issuance of an arrest warrant you must simply show up in court and explain your circumstances to the judge. I know it is tempting to ignore the process and hope it all goes away but debt problems do not get better with time, they tend to get worse. If you cannot afford to pay and the judge finds that fact, you will not be thrown in jail. The Court may or may not make a payment order but you will not be thrown in “Debtor’s Prison.”
Credit card creditors can and do request that the court attach your wages for an unpaid debt. You must be given notice of this request. If allowed by the court an order goes out to you employer requiring that a portion of your paycheck be sent directly to the creditor each pay period until the debt is paid.
If credit card creditors are suing you it is a good time to have a conversation with an experienced bankruptcy lawyer. Use the contact form to talk to us about your debt issues.