“So I’m not great with adult life, I’m 22, I’ve came into work today for my boss to tell me there’s a court order in which they’re garnishing my wages to pay off a debt. The thing is I have no idea as to where this debt has come from. The only time in my life I’ve ever had a letter about a debt is from long ago. Never received any letters about a court order or what not prior to this news. PLEASE HELP THANKS IN ADVANCE!!”


It seems so wrong, but the first indication of owing a debt may be when a paycheck or bank account is garnished. Isn’t a person supposed to receive a copy of the lawsuit and have an opportunity to object before garnishments commence?

It may seem strange, but there are several reason you may not be aware that a judgment was issued against you:

  1. YOU MOVED:  It is common for creditors to deliver a copy of the court summons to your former address. They frequently are not aware that you moved and so they use the last address they have on file. And, since many folks are not home when the Sheriff attempts to deliver a copy of the lawsuit, creditors us a process called Alternate Service to have a copy of the lawsuit taped to your door and mailed via First Class mail.  But if you don’t live there anymore, you may never know that you were served.
  2. THE ROOMMATE FORGOT TO TELL YOU:  The Sheriff may serve the lawsuit on any member of your household of suitable age. There is no strict definition of what a suitable age is, but the papers may be served on any person who resides in the home and who seems responsible.  So if your clueless roommate or child accepted the papers and just forgot to tell you and threw the papers behind the sofa, you may not have know that you got sued.
  3. SERVICE BY PUBLICATION:  When creditors cannot get the papers personally served by Sheriff delivery or Certified Mail, they may ask the court to allow them to serve notice by publishing a notice in the local newspaper.  Unless you read the newspaper–and who reads a newspaper these days–you would have been unaware of the lawsuit.

I once had a client whose 10-year-old daughter was given the court summons by the Sheriff.  As you can expect, the kid totally forgot to tell his mom and she was shocked to discover a judgment lien was placed against her home.  Is a ten year old mature enough to accept service of summons? Apparently so in the eyes of one sheriff.


So what does a person do when they first learn of a judgment when a garnishment is received? The answer is to file a motion to vacate the judgment.  For more information on that procedure, refer to this article on How to Vacate a Default Judgment.


Image courtesy of Flickr and Paul Boudreau