What is a Cognovit?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The legal term cognovit is used when people sign or write a statement that confesses they owe damages or funds to someone else. In so creating this confession of judgment, the writer essentially waives rights to any form of trial to justify his point of view or side of a case. Within certain regions, the cognovit may be used in bankruptcy proceedings or in various other debt collection proceedings. It isn’t used everywhere or in all cases because the waiver of rights of trial — and even sometimes notification of trial — is thought by many jurisdictions to be illegal.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

In the US, only a handful states regularly recognized the cognovit as a basic debt-collecting tool. Where recognized, usually commercial borrowers may have to sign one of these documents when a loan is issued, rather than later on. Even though these documents come with warnings about the rights the borrower is about to forgo, including right to not pay a debt or explain this to the courts if the lender is in error, many borrowers may still sign them or have difficulty getting a loan without one.

It is advised that commercial borrowers carefully investigate a cognovit before signing it, but they should be essentially aware they’re giving up their rights to a defense or a trial in almost all circumstances. Consultation with an attorney might make sense before committing a signature to this. Moreover, these documents frequently waive notification rights, so a borrower may not even be aware that a lender has gone to court and received a judgment based on the cognovit.

In other instances, these statements are simply a time saving measure. The person acknowledges a debt, knows he must repay it, and wants to save money by avoiding a long trial. In this, the confession of judgment is similar to a court confession of a criminal.

With a signed acknowledgment of a debt, court proceedings could simply come down to the cognovit judgment where the debtor’s statement is formally recognized and payment is ordered by a set date. Alternately, this document has limited use in bankruptcy proceedings, but confession of a debt doesn’t necessarily mean a person will end up having to pay it. On the other hand, giving a creditor a cognovit may obligate the person to pay a debt that he could otherwise ask relief from by the courts in bankruptcy.

What actually is written on a cognovit and when it can be requested or used very much depends on region. There may be specific ways to fill these forms out and certain information that must be included. Given the possible surrender of legal rights that these confessions entail, it’s advised people get attorney assistance first.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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