A judgment is a court order and enforceable. Although the precise details will depend on where you are attempting to collect and a state’s specific process, let’s look at the general principles behind judgment and collection.
Enforcing a Court Order
The force behind a judgment is that it is a court order, and has the power of the authorities behind it. That means that the debtor — or the person who owes money based on the court order — must pay or face legal consequences. As a result, the vast majority of people and businesses who can pay will do so to avoid credit issues and collection activities like asset seizures.
Unfortunately, just because you win a case against a defendant doesn’t mean that the person — or business — is always able or willing to pay. If you are attempting to collect and the debtor refuses to pay or argues that payment is impossible, you can inquire further through the courts.
When a debtor will not pay a judgment, the creditor/plaintiff can move a court for more information, filing requests for post-judgment discovery, and requesting that the debtor reveal its financials. Most states will allow interrogatories, requests for production of documents, depositions, and more.
Garnish and Seizure
Some states will allow you to apply to garnish the wages of an individual who owe you money in a judgment, although there are certainly limitations on the percentage of earnings that can be held. Similarly, you may apply to garnish the bank account of an individual business or debtor … if you can find them.
Again, the issue you face is uncovering income and assets. If a debtor is truly determined to shirk the judgment, you may have to work very hard indeed to uncover sources of income and to collect your money. And certainly some debtors are willing to go to great lengths to avoid paying.
Recently, rapper 50 Cent filed for bankruptcy after a multi-million dollar judgment was levied against him. An approved Chapter 7 Bankruptcy filing cuts off creditors’ ability to collect.
Given how vocal 50 Cent has been about having and spending money, the bankruptcy is being closely scrutinized. When the rapper posted a photo of himself lying in stacks of cash spelling out the words “broke” he was called into court to explain himself and filed a brief explaining that it was a joke and that the currency was counterfeit.
Talk to a Lawyer
A judgment will generally expire after 10 years if uncollected but you can usually apply to renew it, and there are other factors to consider besides time. The method of collection will depend on your location and the type of court. Small claims courts have different, and usually easier, processes to follow than courts that deal with disputes over greater sums of money.
If you or someone you know is attempting to collect on a judgment or jury award — or tried in the past and failed — speak to a lawyer. Many attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to discuss your situation.
- Browse for a Collections Lawyer by Location (FindLaw Directory)
- Creditors’ Rights and Collection Options (FindLaw’s Learn About the Law)
- Collecting the Money Judgment (FindLaw’s Learn About the Law)
- Legal How-To: Enforcing a Small Claims Judgment (FindLaw’s Law and Daily Life)