A default judgment is a judgment that occurred without a trial. It occurs whenever you fail to answer a complaint. A default judgment is just like any other judgment, as far as the manner in which it can affect your life. A Plaintiff can collect money in a multitude of ways including; wage garnishment (a percentage of your paycheck is taken out every check), bank levy (where the money simply disappears out of your bank account) as well as liens or sale of property. The key difference between a default judgment and a regular judgment is that default judgments can be vacated.
In New Jersey if you have a default judgment, and you were served with a copy of the complaint you have 1 year from the date of service to make a motion to Vacate Default judgment
In New Jersey, normally a motion to Vacate Default Judgment is made under Rule: 4:50-1(a); this involves a two pronged test: Excusable Neglect and Meritorious Defense. You must show both in order to have a default judgment vacated.
You must have BOTH Excusable Neglect and Meritorious Defense to vacate default judgement
Excusable Neglect is that neglect which is consistent with the behavior of the reasonable ordinary person. While failing to answer a complaint is necessarily neglectful, our courts do not demand perfection but rather will be understanding so long as the neglect in question was excusable under the circumstances. This requires you to tell the court what was happening in your life that caused you not to answer the complaint. These are the big things in life: health concerns, serious family problems, etc. A couple things that will never be viewed as excusable neglect include: I didn't have money for an attorney or I forgot about the complaint. In my experience this motion gets harder as time goes by, so you would be well advised to seek legal assistance as soon as possible.
A motion for Excusable Neglect (in my experience) often gets harder as time goes by, so you would be well advised to seek legal assistance as soon as possible.
Meritorious Defense is the second prong of the test which is necessary to vacate default judgment. This is a safeguard against wasting the court's time. If the result will be the same at the end of the case, why should the court bother to vacate default judgment? Meritorious defense is anything that, if proven, will lead to a judgment not being entered against you. In my experience judges tend to vary considerably on this prong. While I would argue that one need merely articulate the meritorious defense, I have heard judges claim that it must be proven. I have heard others judges claim that the articulation was not sufficient specific. While I may disagree with Judges who hold such views, at the end of the day, they make the decisions.
Author Kyle Mastro, Esq. - Civil Litigation Lawyer focusing on Debt Defense