Why a Default Judgment Is Arguably the Worst Kind


Litigants in civil court can win one of several different types of judgments. One of them is the default judgment. On its face, a default judgment seems like the best kind of judgment to win because no effort is made by the defendant to contest the proceedings. But in actuality, that very fact makes the default judgment arguably the worst kind.

Obtaining a default judgment sets in motion an enforcement process that may not be as easy as one would like. More often than not, enforcement is difficult and frustrating. The fact that you are dealing with an uncooperative defendant only makes matters worse.

A Basic Explanation

The default judgment is pretty easy to understand. It is so named because the defendant defaults. This can happen in a number of different ways:

  • Failure to Respond – Long before a civil case ever goes to trial, the defendant is served with a lawsuit. He has so many days to respond to the service. If he fails to do so, the case proceeds and the court enters a default judgment.
  • Failure to Appear – Likewise, the defendant might answer the service but fail to appear in court on the scheduled date. A failure to appear equates to a failure to participate in the legal process. A default judgment is the only option the court has.

For all intents and purposes, the plaintiff won the case because the defendant didn’t participate. The case itself was never decided on its merits. That may be a good deal for a plaintiff whose case was weak, but a default judgment is still bad news in terms of enforcement.

Enforcing Monetary Awards

The best way to explain why a default judgment is not necessarily a good deal is to look at cases involving monetary awards. Enforcing such a judgment means collecting what is owed. In a perfect world, the defendant comes to court ready to pay immediately if he loses. But that is not how it works with a default judgment.

Remember that a default judgment is entered against a defendant who does not participate in the legal process. If you have a defendant who either doesn’t answer the original service or fails to appear in court, what are the chances of that individual voluntarily showing up at your door with cash in hand? Pretty slim.

Chances are you are dealing with an individual who has already begun working on ways to avoid paying. Maybe he has moved and left no forwarding information with friends or relatives. Perhaps he purposely quit his job to avoid wage garnishment. If he has tangible assets, perhaps he has already started transferring them to others. The possibilities are endless.

Judgment Collectors, a specialist collection agency based in Utah, says that agencies like theirs have access to tools that can help them track down debtors and find assets they are trying to hide. Still, they acknowledge that debtors in default are often the hardest ones to deal with.

Cooperative Debtors Don’t Default

It really boils down to the fact that a cooperative debtor would not default. By definition, a cooperative debtor wants to get the issue settled one way or another. Not responding to legal service or appearing in court is a clear indication of an unwillingness to own up.

A default judgment may be among the easiest to obtain, but it is by no means the easiest to enforce. That is why some of us believe default judgments are the worst kind. If I were headed to a civil court, I would want the defendant to participate at every step.

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