What’s the difference between a default and default judgment?  One is bad, the other is much worse.

This blog is written for those wondering about the difference between default and default judgment. If you are on the wrong end of either a default or a default judgment – here’s the short answer: default is bad.  Default judgment is much worse.

Civil litigation is complicated and even more so in California. Civil litigation is a morass of deadlines and procedures.  Most law schools don’t teach what’s required to succeed in the trenches of civil litigation. You learn as you go or from your mentor. It’s a school of hard knocks.

When you are sued and served with lawsuit, there’s a deadline to respond. It varies by method of service. In California, you generally have 30 days to prepare and file in the court your responsive pleading in the proper format.

Let’s assume you are served and you don’t respond within 30 days. The plaintiff may file a request for entry of default with the court clerk on the 31st day. The clerk will enter default against you, usually that same day. If you try to file your response on day 33, for example, the court will not accept it. You are in default until you set aside the default.  Setting aside a default and default judgment will be the topic of another blog.

Once you are defaulted (step one), the plaintiff may seek entry of a default judgment against you (step two).

The Default Judgment Identifies How Much You legally Owe the Plaintiff

The goal of a default and default judgment is to actually assign a dollar amount to what you legally owe the plaintiff. A simple default doesn’t mean you legally owe a certain amount of money. A default judgment identifies the amount you owe the plaintiff. You don’t want this to happen because a default judgment makes you a judgment debtor.  Plaintiff may use all sorts of  legal procedures to legally take your money and property.

If you are in default in a family law case, do not delay in seeking legal advice. You stand to lose very serious and important rights. Don’t let that happen.

You should not ever allow anyone to get a default and default judgment against you in any case. Setting aside a default judgment is sometimes possible if you act promptly. The process requires extensive paperwork, evidence and a good argument why you allowed it to happen.

A Statement of Damages is Red Flag that a Default Judgment is Coming

If you are in default and you receive a document called “statement of damages” this is a serious warning that default judgment may be imminent. Take it seriously. Contact the attorney identified in the top left corner of the document and ask for time to consult a lawyer.

The best way to avoid a default and default judgment is to consult with an experienced civil litigation attorney. Do this when you have been served, but long before your deadline to respond has lapsed.

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