Yes, but only under certain circumstances. Collection suits in New Jersey are most often served by certified and regular mail and can often get lost in the shuffle after arrival, especially when someone is so harried by creditors that they stop opening their mail.
Once the time has passed to file an answer (35 days) the creditor can enter judgment by default. However, it is possible to reopen the case, and much easier to do so if you take action within one year of the judgment being entered.
To do so, you must make a motion with the court and establish two things:
- Excusable Neglect for Failing to Answer Timely; and
- A Meritorious Defense
In other words, you have to have a good reason for not filing an answer within 35 days, and you have to show that there is a real defense to the collection suit. The courts are serious about deadlines and will want to know why you did not meet one. However, the courts do seek justice and are willing to give you your day in court, but you should be able to put down some reasonable reason for being late.
So What Do I Do?
A motion to "vacate" a judgment and file an answer disputing the debt is not something you should handle yourself. If a creditor has a recently entered judgment against you, and you believe you can meet the burden for reopening the case, you are going to need help.
If you live in southern New Jersey and are looking to hire an attorney to fight for you, please feel free to call me at 856-432-4113 or contact me through this site to schedule an appointment in my Woodbury office to review your case. You deserve your day in court.
If this is only one of many debts and you are struggling to keep your head above water financially, you might want to consider filing bankruptcy. You can download my free book, Am I In Too Deep? A Guide to Knowing When You Need to File Bankruptcy in New Jersey.