How Do I Know If There Is A Lawsuit Or Judgment Against Me?

We get this question often!  The answer for the most part is quite simple.  If you have been sued, unless you have changed your address and have not updated it through the post office, you likely have received notices that were being sued.  To understand the process of a lawsuit better, check out the blog post we wrote about whether bankruptcy can help you if you have a judgment.

Young Family Sitting in Front of House

Should you be a person who has moved and slipped through the cracks, finding out if judgments are against you is still a quite simple matter.  You will need to go to the Clerk of Court for the county that you are (or in the case of moving, were in) and have them do a judgment search on you.  They can pull up the person/creditor who sued you, date it was entered into the court system, amount you owed at the time of the lawsuit, what the daily interest is and the amount you currently owe.  For example, if you lived in Union County, North Carolina for the past 9 years and you just now moved to Mecklenburg County, North Carolina,  your judgments are likely still registered in Union County. Therefore you will need to check there first. (But checking in your current county of residence isn’t going to hurt anything either!)

From that point, you will need to determine if the suit has attached to any real property you may own.  For example, let’s say for our purposes, you have lived in Mecklenburg County for the past 10 years and never moved, you own your home by yourself and there is a judgment against you.  Once that judgment is placed against you, it will automatically attach itself to your home.  If you have previously been sued , you will need to discuss that with your attorney to make sure the proper steps are taken to remove that judgment from your credit, especially if there is a lien involved.

If you have a lawsuit or judgment against you then you may want to contact a Charlotte bankruptcy lawyer, Greensboro bankruptcy attorney or Winston-Salem bankruptcy lawyer to learn more about your rights.

What is the Difference Between A Lawsuit, Judgment and Lien?

Many debtors get nervous when all these legal terms start to get thrown around. We are going to explain what each of these are so that you will have a better idea of what you may be dealing with. We will focus on the civil side of things and how they relate to bankruptcy filings.


Say you owe a credit card company $4,000 and you cannot afford to pay them anymore. After several months of not receiving any payment from you, they may choose to sue you for the amount you owe them. This is a lawsuit. They will file it with the court saying they want to take legal action against you for the money you owe them. Once you receive a lawsuit, you typically have 30 days to respond. It is usually best to respond because it will buy you some time so you can figure out what you would like to do before they get a judgment.


If you do not respond to that lawsuit within the certain amount of time, the court will set a date for a hearing. Usually at this hearing your creditor will ask for a judgment against you. This means you now have a court order that is requiring you to pay the money you owe to the creditor. If you fail to pay your creditor after they receive a judgment, the court could place a lien on the property.


One of the most common things that can be called a lien is a mortgage. You took out a loan that is secured by a home. If a creditor obtains a judgment against you in court, that judgment could possibly attach to your home or other property as a lien. That debt that you owe the creditor for the judgment is now secured by your home or other property. You typically must satisfy (or pay) the lien off in full before you are able to sell or transfer the property. In North Carolina, a lien can last for 10 years and then be refilled for an additional 10-year period if it has not been executed or satisfied. This is another incentive to get you to pay that debt. Bankruptcy can help get that lien off your property, but an additional motion must be filed.

How Do I Write An Answer To A Complaint?


After a complaint is filed against you, you have 30 days to file an answer to that complaint. There are many generic forms that can be found that will help you to do this. If you use the internet to help you, make sure it is a reputable website that you are getting the information from.  As a reminder, if you are planning on filing bankruptcy, your bankruptcy attorney does not represent you in this lawsuit so they cannot help you write your answer unless the agree to do so in a separate contract.

The top part of your answer should look a lot like the top part of the complaint. It should have the state and county that the complaint was filed in, which court, District or Superior, and the case number. Make sure that all of this is exactly how it appears on the complaint. The other thing that needs to be included there is the case number that is listed on the complaint. This is very important that you put the correct case number, because this is what will link the complaint and answer together.

Pen and Paperwork

The body of the answer will have numbered bullets just like the body of the complaint. You will either admit, deny or explain you neither admit nor deny because more information is needed. You will do this by lining your answers up numerically the same way they appear in the complaint.

Make sure that you sign and date the answer with the date that you are intending to get it filed with the Clerk of Court.  You will also need to prepare what is called a Certificate of Service. This basically states you certify you filed your answer with the court and have also mailed a copy to the Plaintiff or Plaintiff’s attorney.  This also must be filed with the court when the answer is filed. You will take both of these documents to the clerk of court in whatever county the complaint was filed and tell them you need to file an answer to a complaint. They will get it filed and give you a copy that has their stamp on it.  You will need to mail a copy of this to the plaintiff’s attorney that is listed on the complaint. Doing all of this will buy you about 30 days to figure out what you want to do to remedy this situation.

What Is A Complaint? | Parts of A Civil Lawsuit

When the sheriff shows up at your door and hands you a stack of papers with a bright yellow sheet on top, what are they actually giving you? Most likely they are giving you what is called a complaint. A complaint is the first step in initiating a lawsuit. This means that someone has filed papers with the court to begin the legal process to write some sort of wrong. Most of the complaints clients who come into our office see are ones saying they owe someone money.

Bills in Mailbox

So what does a complaint typically say? It will state which county the complaint has been filed in and whether it is in the District or Superior court for that county. The title of the complaint will also say who is filing the complaint, the plaintiff, and who they are filing it against, the defendant. The case number will also be stated in this section.  Below that it will also state why they are filing the complaint. For example, say John Smith owes ABC Bank $10,000 that is past due on a credit card. The body of the compliant will list this, along with the specifics of when the card was applied for and the actual card number.

There will also be several statements that are numbered and they will list the terms of the complaint. These typically state who the plaintiff is, where the defendant lives, that the defendant opened an account and agreed to the term and conditions of the account and that they then have failed to pay on that account. The last paragraph will state what the plaintiff wants as a remedy or result of filing the complaint. What the plaintiff will typically say they want is a judgment for the full amount the plaintiff owes plus a certain amount of interest and attorney’s fees.

It is important that you respond to the complaint by filing an answer. If you do not respond to the complaint then you will automatically be found liable for the lawsuit. The courts will view it as you failed to respond and, therefore, you admit that you owe the money and are liable to the plaintiff. The court will then issue a default judgment saying you are fully liable for the amount owed. Be sure to read our other blog post on how to respond to a complaint with an answer. Also know that if you do have a lawsuit against you bankruptcy may be an option worth exploring more.

What is a Motion to Avoid a Judicial Lien in Bankruptcy?

You may be considering filing bankruptcy because one of your creditors has obtained a judgment against you. Most people are uncertain of the consequences that a judgment can have. Usually, if you do not own any real property (house or land) or if you do not have any equity in your property, it can be difficult for the judgment creditor to satisfy the judgment. In other words, if you do not own any property with value, it can be difficult for the creditor to receive money or property from you to pay off the judgment.

Past Due Bills Sitting in Mailbox? Time for Bankruptcy

On the other hand, you may need to be concerned about a judicial lien. If you own real property in the same county where the judgment was entered by the court, then the creditor automatically has a lien against your real property. This means that when you try to sell your house, you will have to pay off the judgment before you can sell the house.

To better explain how a judgment lien works, here is a common situation:

You owe $25,000.00 on a credit card and have fallen behind on the payments. You first receive a Civil Summons from the attorney representing the credit card company. They give you 30 days respond, and when no response is received from you, the credit card company obtains a Judgment from the court. The lawsuit was filed in Guilford County, which is where your home is located. Ten years later, you try to sell your home. You are unable to do so without first paying off the $25,000.00 judgment (plus interest and attorney fees).

The good news is that bankruptcy can essentially eliminate the judgment lien on your home. If you own a home and a creditor has obtained a judgment against you, ask your bankruptcy attorney about filing a Motion to Avoid a Judicial Lien. In the appropriate situations, your attorney can file a motion with the bankruptcy court requesting that the judicial lien be removed from your home upon completion of your bankruptcy. If the bankruptcy court grants the motion, then the judgment creditor will no longer have a lien on your house. You also need to ensure that the judgment debt is listed on your actual bankruptcy petition in order for the debt to be eliminated.

Although your bankruptcy attorney will charge an additional fee to file the Motion to Avoid a Judicial Lien, it is well worth the attorney fee to eliminate thousands of dollars in additional liens on your home. For further information on whether a Motion to Avoid a Judicial Lien will be best in your situation, contact your bankruptcy lawyer.

How Does a Bankruptcy Affect a Judgment Against Me?

Icon Image of A Orange FlagFirst, let’s discuss what a judgment is. It is important to understand the lawsuit process in order to understand a judgment. When a creditor wants to pursue legal action against you for a debt, they will file a lawsuit against you by filing a “Complaint” or “Civil Summons” against you. In North Carolina, you generally have 30 calendar days to respond the lawsuit, either by filing an “Answer” with the civil court where the lawsuit was filed or by filing a bankruptcy.

If you do not file an Answer or a bankruptcy within the 30 calendar days, the creditor will go to the court and automatically obtain a judgment against you. This means that the creditor has won the lawsuit and has the authority to send the sheriff out to execute the judgment. This means that the sheriff can take any assets or property that you have that has any value to it – anything that the creditor can sell to try to pay off what you owe them.

The thought of being sued and having a judgment filed against you is scary, but the good news is that by filing bankruptcy, you can take care of the lawsuit, the judgment, and the debt owed. The bankruptcy automatic stay will stop the judgment creditor from trying to collect a debt from you. In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the debt is eliminated completely. In Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases, you are paying a portion of that debt back through the bankruptcy.

If you own a home, there is a good chance that the judgment has attached a lien to the home. This means that if you ever want to sell your house, you will have to pay off the judgment amount in full before you can sell the house. If you have a judgment lien against your house and you file bankruptcy, a separate motion will need to be filed with the Bankruptcy Court to remove the attachment of the lien to your home.

As you can see, the lawsuit and judgment process is complicated, but the good news is that bankruptcy can help you get out from under the debt. Contact us today to see how we can help you wipe out a judgment through bankruptcy or possibly remove a judicial lien from your property.