What Does It Mean to Enforce a Civil Judgment

Enforcement is an interesting thing when it comes to court actions. In criminal court, a defendant found guilty is then sentenced by a judge. The sentence could be anything from a fine to jail time. In either case, the court has the authority to enforce the sentence. That is not how it works in civil court. In civil court, enforcement is left up to litigants.

The best way to understand this is to consider a hypothetical lawsuit. Let us say a landlord chooses to sue a former tenant for back rent and property damage. He also wants to include legal fees and late payment fees in the amount. He files a lawsuit to that effect.

The Case Goes to Court

Assuming the former tenant does not agree to settle prior to the scheduled court date, the two parties proceed to court with their attorneys. The court hears the evidence and renders a decision. Should the court decide in favor of the landlord, a civil judgment is entered against the former tenant. The landlord then becomes the judgment creditor while the tenant becomes the judgment debtor.

This is where most of the court’s responsibility ends. Enforcement, which is to say collecting, is left to the creditor and its attorneys or other representatives. Judgment Collectors, a collection agency out of Salt Lake City, UT, says many creditors hire collection agencies that specialize in judgments.

 Working with Judgment Debtors

Attorneys and judgment collection agencies generally start out advising that creditors work with judgment debtors as much as they possibly can. Judgment Collectors might recommend setting up a payment plan before doing anything else. Why? Because if a creditor can elicit the debtor’s willing cooperation, things generally go more smoothly. If a creditor gets aggressive immediately, the debtor may respond by being defensive. Now you have a battle that could have been avoided.

When Debtors Don’t Cooperate

It goes without saying that judgment debtors don’t always cooperate. They do not come to court expecting to lose. When they do lose, they don’t try very hard to find a way to make payment. That leaves the creditor and its representatives to utilize every means available to encourage settlement of the debt.

According to Judgment Collectors, creditors have a lot of options in most states. Here are three:

  • Garnishment – Most states allow the garnishment of both wages and bank accounts. In a wage garnishment scenario, a certain amount is deducted from every paycheck and forwarded to the creditor. Garnished bank accounts are frozen while assets are transferred to the creditor.
  • Property Liens – Creditors can place judgment liens on property, thereby guaranteeing the property cannot be sold without repaying what is owed. Sale proceeds go to satisfy the lien first. If there is anything left over, it goes to the debtor.
  • Property Seizure – Another tool is property seizure. In most states, property other than the debtor’s primary residence and car can be seized and sold. This includes boats, RVs, and vacation properties. It could include some types of intangible assets as well.

Creditors and their collection agencies do not necessarily want to go so far as to place judgment liens on property or seize assets. These sorts of things get messy rather quickly. But when debtors do not cooperate, creditors are often left with no other choice.

It should also be noted that collection agencies like Judgment Collectors are very skilled at hunting down deadbeat debtors and the assets they try to hide. Through public records, proprietary databases, and other tools they are not quick to divulge, they have ways of uncovering the truth and encouraging debtors to pay.

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