by Tali Green
Whether it took years of fierce litigation that ended with a successful trial, or it took a couple months of simple procedural steps, obtaining judgment is, for many litigants, the seemingly final step of the case. Once they get a copy of that judgment from the court, they assume that the judgment debtor will simply pay what he or she owes as a matter of course. Unfortunately, some litigants are soon faced with the hard reality that collecting on the judgment can be much more difficult than obtaining it.
If you are reading this, it may be because you have a judgment but no idea how to turn that piece of paper into the relief to which you are entitled. Here are four things you should do quickly and with the help of a collection lawyer:
1. Give the defendant notice of the default judgment.
This step only applies if the judgment is the result of default proceedings. While a plaintiff is not required to provide a defendant with notice of the default judgment, the absence of notice can work in the defendant’s favour if they choose to bring a motion to set aside the default judgment. Conversely, if the defendant had notice and chose not to do anything about it for a while, that can work in the plaintiff’s favour on such a motion.
2. Issue a Writ of Execution.
A writ of execution is issued in the jurisdiction in which the defendant resides or owns real property and it allows the creditor to direct the sheriff in that jurisdiction to seize certain of the defendant’s personal property (such as cars or boats). Obviously, the sooner a writ is issued and acted upon, the more likely it is that funds and assets in the defendant’s possession will be available to satisfy the judgment.
3. Apply for a Garnishment.
A garnishment is basically a court order requiring a third party that owes money to the debtor (i.e., an employer, a tenant, a bank, etc) to send the money it owes to the judgment debtor to the Sheriff instead, who then pays the judgment creditors. If the third party fails to pay the funds to the Sheriff, it must explain why and if it fails to do so, it may become liable for the amount of the judgment.
4. Schedule a Judgment Debtor Examination.
A judgment creditor is entitled to ask, or examine, a judgment debtor on a wide range of often intrusive questions, including about his or her assets, personal affairs, and family circumstances. The judgment debtor is obligated to attend such an examination (if they don’t, they can be found in contempt of court) and is obligated to answer all appropriate questions under oath. The answers can then become part of the public record. Often, if the judgment creditor has assets, the mere threat of being examined in this intrusive manner will be enough to move toward discussions of a reasonable payment plan. Alternatively, if the judgment debtor attends the examination, the information provided can help with garnishment and seizure efforts, which is why this step also needs to be taken as quickly as possible to avoid dissipation of funds or assets.