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Collecting On Your Judgment: The Headache Continues

Litigating a case in court, whether it’s small claims or a full on lawsuit, isn’t the easiest thing in the world.  Generally, if you have any problem that has progressed to the point where you have to take someone to court, it’s probably a problem that has been less than fun to deal with.  You’re probably already aggravated and tired of having to recount the same facts over and over again, no less do it in front of a judge.  But there’s no better feeling than finally having your case come to a conclusion and hearing the judge issue a ruling in your favor.

So now you’re done, right?  Time to kick back, hit the bars, and buy a round of margaritas for a job well done.  Well, not necessarily.  Many people may be shocked and dismayed to hear that, in the immortal words of GI Joe, winning your case is only half the battle.  Because as great as it is to hear a judgment come down in your favor, generally when it comes to collecting on that favorable judgment, you’re on your own.  Why?  Because courts only adjudicate disputes to determine who is right and what the remedies should be, whether monetary or something else.

But when it comes to enforcing their judgment, the courts typically take a hands-off approach for various reasons.  Usually the most commonly reasons cited for this seemingly strange policy are that ensuring a judgment is paid is too costly for the court as it requires the court to expend additional court resources to force the losing party to comply or that enforcement is overly burdensome for the court to monitor.

However, this doesn’t mean that you’re stuck holding the ball if you win your case and the other side doesn’t want to pay or claims they are too broke to do so.  Far from it, there are some interesting ways to ensure you get what you’re owed.  However, all of them require that you first petition the court to get off their rears and start shaking down your deadbeat.  Most courts generally view these sorts of petitions favorably depending on the facts.  Here are seven ways to make sure your judgment gets paid.

  1. Debtor Examination.  This is the go-to answer when faced with a losing party claiming they’re too poor to cough up your cash.  Essentially, a debtor examination is when you ask the court to force the losing party to produce their financial information and assets to the court who will then determine what can be garnished or sold to gather enough money so that you can collect on your judgment.  It’s a common practice and is used very often in civil and criminal litigation.
  2. Levy Bank Account and Safe Deposit Boxes.  If your debtor has either of these and you know about them, then you can ask the courts to levy the assets within each to fulfill your judgment.  The amount of information you need to provide can vary from court to court, but generally most just ask that you tell them which bank the debtor uses.
  3. Wage Garnishment.  If the debtor has a job, you can get the court to skim off some of the money he or she earns from each paycheck to be paid to you until the judgment amount has been reached.  This is another common remedy and is used pretty often in delinquent child support cases.
  4. Lien on Real Property. Placing a lien on your debtor’s home or other physical property means that if his or her property is ever sold, any proceeds from the sale must first be used to pay you off first with the remainder going to the debtor.  It’s a great solution to a stingy debtor, but can take some time to get your money back if the debtor doesn’t choose to sell his property or the court isn’t taking steps to force a sale.
  5. Till Tapping.  This is an interesting solution that’s similar to wage garnishment.  Basically, if the debtor owns or receives funds from a business, you can ask the court to deduct any income the debtor receives from these sources of revenue, which will then be used to pay their delinquent judgment.  For instance, if your debtor owned a convenience store and the court agrees to place a till tap on that business, a percentage of any of the money that goes into that business will go to you first.
  6. Suspending Driver’s License.  Most courts are willing to suspend a debtor driver’s license until the debtor pays the judgment.  There are a number of limitations that are unique with each court regarding this remedy.  Generally this is only available in cases involving automobile accidents.  And it’s not uncommon that debtors can get these orders overturned for good cause, such as claiming they need their car to get to work in order to pay the judgment.  But, if the court allows the suspension to go through, it can be a powerful incentive to get the other side to pay up.  Because, let’s face it, being forced to take the bus after driving your whole life just sucks.
  7. Judgment Enforcement Specialists.  You don’t need a court order for this one.  Judgment enforcement specialists are essentially lawyers who specialize in collecting unpaid judgments.  Hiring one is kind of like hiring a collection agency to collect on your outstanding bills if you’re a business owner, but in this case these specialists are versed in the legal procedures required to navigate through the judicial system to get your money.  Now they can be expensive, but they can be a lifesaver if you have a really high judgment and you can’t seem to get the other side cough up.

And I know it’s hard to stay positive when you think you’ve finally settled a long-standing thorn in your side and find out that there’s a whole new set of needles underneath, but hey, just remember that it could always be worst.

Ken LaMance


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