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What is a Default Judgment and what do I do?

Produced by Mariah Jennings-Rampsi for Volunteer Lawyers Project
Created April 2019
Produced by Mariah Jennings-Rampsi, South Coastal Counties Legal Services, with funding from American College of Bankruptcy Foundation
Reviewed December 2019

A default judgment is a judgment of the court saying you lost your case because you did not “enter an appearance” or appear at court on the day you were supposed to be there. A default judgment in a case for unpaid bills is the judge's decision that you owe the creditor who took you to court the amount of money he claims. The creditor won the case because you did not appear at court or you did not do what you were supposed to do. 

See a sample Judgment by Default to see what one looks like.

If the court entered a default against you, you can ask the judge to "remove the default." You need to put your request in writing in a motion to the court. Always give the plaintiff a copy of anything you file with the court.  

In your motion to the court, give reasons why the court should remove the default. Your reasons may include:

  • You did not have notice of the case, or
  • You did not have notice of a deadline, or
  • something happened that made you unable to do what you were supposed to do in the case.


It can be very difficult or impossible to set aside a default judgment.  Do not assume you will be able to get the court to set aside a default judgment. Respond to all deadlines and appear at all hearings.

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