Falling behind on debt payments can be a horrible feeling. It can feel like you’ll never get out of the hole. Worse yet, there is often shame associated with debt, so it’s hard to talk about. Then, just when you think you’re at your lowest point financially, someone hands you a stack of papers filled with legal jargon that seems to say you’re getting sued.
If this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. While people don’t talk a lot about debt lawsuits, they are surprisingly common. In fact, during the COVID-19 pandemic, they became the most common type of lawsuit in Texas civil courts.
If you think you have been served or will soon be served for a debt lawsuit in Texas, make sure you know your rights and options.
Is the Creditor Following the Law?
If you’re being sued by a creditor to collect a debt, it’s important to make sure they follow every letter of the law. Some creditors count on the fact that many people are unaware of their rights, so they get away with unethical and even illegal practices.
In Texas, a creditor who is suing over a debt must:
- File the lawsuit within four years of the debt
- Follow all the specifics surrounding how a lawsuit can be served
Don’t assume that because something sounds official, it’s done right.
Requirements for Debt Lawsuit Service in Texas
Before a lawsuit can officially take place, the Plaintiff (debt collector) must give the defendant (you) papers in a very specific way. This is the process of “serving” someone. The legal jargon makes it sound nerve-wracking. But it’s just a way to ensure that the defendant is notified and has a chance to defend themselves in court.
The act of “serving” someone must meet several requirements to be legally sound:
- The papers must be delivered to the defendant through a process server, not from the plaintiff directly.
- The process server must deliver the papers by hand or through another authorized method.
- The process server must file a Return of Citation document to the court in which they swear that the documents were delivered properly.
Sometimes, a plaintiff will try to notify a defendant through regular mail. This does not count in Texas.
What If I Don’t Take Papers From Someone Trying to Serve Me?
The debt collector must first have the process server try to locate you and deliver the papers by hand. Of course, sometimes they go to the wrong address. Furthermore, you may not answer the door for strangers. You could be out of town when they come by or otherwise unable to chat.
If the process server cannot locate you, they can ask to court for alternative ways to serve the papers. This is usually accomplished by handing the papers to anyone over the age of 16 in the home or fixing the papers to the front door.
I was Never Served, But Now I Have a Judgment
Sometimes, the process server gives the papers to the wrong person or delivers them to a previous address. When this happens, the defendant doesn’t respond because they don’t know they are being sued. However, since the court believes the defendant knows and decided not to show up, they grant the creditor a judgment.
Suddenly, you can find yourself face-to-face with someone trying to take your property. They have a signed paper from a judge, but this is the first you’ve heard of it. If this happens to you, you need to speak to a lawyer immediately. You will need to get in front of the judge and explain the circumstances.
What to Do If You’re Served for a Debt Lawsuit in Texas
If a debt collector sues you in Texas, you have between 14 and 20 plus days to respond. The exact time you have depends on the court in which the lawsuit is taking place. The papers that they served you should tell you, but it’s best to err on the side of caution.
While it may feel tempting to ignore the lawsuit, that will only make things worse. If you don’t answer or show up in court, the judge will grant the debt collector a win by default. They can then seize certain types of property and income.
Instead, call an experienced lawyer immediately, even before you respond to anyone in writing. In many ways, Texas is a debtor-friendly state. An experienced lawyer can help you. If you’re in South Texas, contact Benjamin Trotter, Attorney at Law, P.C.
You can bet the debt collectors have lawyers on their side, and they are probably counting on you to not defend yourself.