COVID-19 Information Update
Virtual Community Forum on Consumer Debt, sponsored by the Maryland Attorney General and Access to Justice Commission.
Beginning July 20, 2020, the District Court may begin processing and scheduling civil cases for affidavit judgment. You may wish to review the following:
Topics on this page
- What is an Affidavit Judgment?
- Do nothing (Accept a Default Judgment)
- Negotiate a settlement with the creditor
- Defend yourself in court (Dispute the claim.)
- What happens if a Judgment is entered against the Defendant?
A creditor can file for a Judgment on Affidavit (also known as an Affidavit Judgment) if it has documents that it believes prove that a Defendant owes the creditor a specific amount of money.
The lawsuit starts by the Plaintiff (creditor) filing a Complaint and Affidavit in Support of Judgment. The Defendant then has 15 days to file a Notice of Intention to Defend (located at the bottom of the summons). If a notice of intent to defend is not filed, a judge will review the documents to see if they show that the Defendant does in fact owe the money to the Plaintiff. If the judge finds that the documents are adequate, the judge will rule in the Plaintiff’s favor without any further proof. If the judge finds that the documents are not adequate, the judge will deny the request for judgment and set the case for a trial.
The rest of this article addresses options that defendants have if they have been served with a Complaint and Affidavit in Support of Judgment.
If you do not dispute that you owe the debt, one option is to accept a default judgment.
If you do not file a Notice of Intention to Defend with the court or do not appear in court for the scheduled trial, the court can enter judgment against you for the amount the Plaintiff asked for. Once a default judgment is entered, you will be required to pay the Plaintiff the amount of the debt claimed in the lawsuit and post-judgment interest will begin to accrue. If you do not pay the judgment voluntarily, the creditor will still have to go through the legal process to collect that judgment.
If you agree that you owe the debt, one possible option is to negotiate a settlement agreement with the creditor before the end of the 15 day period after you are served.
To negotiate a settlement agreement, you should contact the creditor to see if it will accept a payment plan that fits your financial situation. If you pay any money towards the debt owed before the trial date, you must notify the court to reduce the claim against you. It is critical that you put any type of settlement agreement or payment plan in writing. Keep copies and records of all the payments you make in paying off the debt.
For more information about negotiating with opposing parties, see the page on Talking to the Other Side.
Step One: Filing a Notice of Intention to Defend
If you are served a Complaint and Affidavit in Support of Judgment and want to fight the claim in court, you must file a Notice of Intention to Defend. This notice is located at the bottom of your Writ of Summons.
If you fail to file the Notice of Intention to Defend, a judgment can be entered against you without a trial. Do not skip this step if you want to fight the claim.
By filing a Notice of Intention to Defend, you are telling the court that you dispute the amount of debt claimed in the Affidavit in Support of Judgment. Once you file the Notice of Intention to Defend, the court clerk will send a notice to the Plaintiff telling them that you intend to defend the lawsuit. If you file a Notice of Intention to Defend, your case will proceed to a trial.
Step Two: Going to Trial
If you disagree that you owe the debt or want to fight the lawsuit for other reasons, you can fight the case in court before a judge. If you filed a Notice of Intention to Defend, the court will schedule a trial. Even if you did not file a Notice of Intention to Defend before the deadline, you should still go to the hearing listed on the Summons to explain why the court should not enter a judgment against you.
When you appear at court, the court will hear the case “on the merits." This means that the court will no longer consider the Affidavit in Support of Judgment on its own. Instead, the Plaintiff will need to be present in court to present its arguments and evidence to meet its “burden of proof.” The “burden of proof” is the Plaintiff’s obligation to prove its case. In debt collection cases, the Plaintiff must show by a “preponderance of the evidence” (meaning that it is more likely than not, based on the evidence presented at trial) that:
- the debt is owed by you (the Defendant), and
- the Plaintiff owns the debt.
If you win, no judgment will be awarded. If you lose, a judgment will be awarded to the Plaintiff.
What if the Plaintiff Does Not Show Up for the Hearing?
If the Plaintiff does not show up at the hearing, the court will likely grant a postponement of the trial. This is called a continuance. A new trial date will be scheduled to allow both sides to attend. If a continuance or postponement is granted, the court will notify both sides of a new trial date.
If a judgment is entered against the Defendant for the debt owed to the Plaintiff, the court itself will not try to collect the money. The Plaintiff must attempt to collect the judgment. The Plaintiff cannot begin to collect any money from you within the first 30 days after the date the judgment is entered. This allows time for appeals, if any.
If the Defendant chooses not to voluntarily pay the creditor the money owed, the Plaintiff/creditor has several options to collect the judgment against you. The Plaintiff's options for collecting a judgment can be found in this article on the topic: Collecting a Judgment.