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Laws and regulations about judgment enforcement vary considerably by jurisdiction. Depending on where the lawsuit took place, a judgment creditor may be able have a defendant imprisoned or can seize much, if not all, a debtor's property. It is also possible, in some cases, for a creditor to garnish the wages of a judgment debtor. In many areas, a judgment debtor's credit can be significantly affected by an existing judgment debt, which can give the debtor a strong incentive to either settle or pay off a judgment.
When somebody successfully sues another, they are typically issued a judgment by the court. In some places, the courts may take a significant role in judgment enforcement, while in other countries, such as the United States, the courts take a limited role in enforcing the collection of judgment monies, leaving it up to the plaintiff to use his own resources in claiming what he is owed. Judgment creditors in the United States typically have a number of legal options for judgment enforcement at their disposal, though state laws can sometimes restrict these options.
After a plaintiff wins a lawsuit in the United States, the court will give the plaintiff a written document stating how much money the plaintiff is owed by the defendant. In many cases, a judgment creditor will begin judgment enforcement by contacting the defendant and requesting payment. In some cases, the judgment creditors attorney may make this contact on behalf of the creditor. if the creditor knows the defendant is unlikely to be able to pay the full amount of the judgment, the creditor may offer to settle for less than the full judgment amount.
If no settlement is reached, or the defendant does not pay right away, the judgment creditor may be able to seize the assets of the debtor. This aspect of judgment enforcement often begins with the creditor seizing any cash assets in debtor's bank accounts or investment accounts. This process is sometimes known as a “bank levy” or “bank garnishment.” Another option is to garnish the wages of the debtor, though some states forbid the practice and others can get significant amount of income from garnishment attempts.
While there is typically a statute of limitations on judgment enforcement in the United States, this period of time varies by state and is often renewable. In some cases, a judgment creditor has decades in which to collect his judgment. This means that if a judgment creditor is patient, he can continue to monitor a debtor's financial situation and resume judgment enforcement when a debtor increases his earnings or assets.
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