A civil judgment is a decision rendered by the court at the end of a civil lawsuit. A civil lawsuit is a lawsuit that you litigated against another person or business entity such as a corporation or partnership. The lawsuit involves a dispute and that can involve more than just two parties. When all the parties named in the lawsuit have finished presenting their case to a judge or jury, the court will enter a judgment. The civil judgment memorializes the court’s decision in favor of one party or another on the issues litigated before the court.
What It Means to Have a Civil Judgment in Your Favor
If you were a party to a civil lawsuit and the court ordered one or more of the opposing parties to pay you money, the court’s order is a civil judgment. At that moment, your opposing party became a judgment debtor and became liable to you according to the judgment of the court.
Your judgment will identify you and any other party to the lawsuit who prevailed, the amount of money owed by the judgment debtor(s) to you. The judgment should state the amount of money owed to you. It will set forth the principal amount, and depending on the case, it may also include attorney fees, other costs, and an interest rate that can accrue on any unpaid debt.
Once the judgment is entered on the record by the court, you can take lawful steps to collect on it. To collect on that judgment, you must take a number of steps to keep the judgment alive and enforceable.
Enforcing Your Judgment
Sometimes, the judgment debtor will cooperate with your attempts to collect payment. Many times, however, the judgment debtor will not cooperate. If your judgment debtor does not pay the civil judgment or cooperate with your attempts to enforce it, you can take several steps to enforce the judgment debt, depending on the circumstances of your case.
Monetary judgments are usually enforced by getting a judgment lien on the debtor’s property. Be aware that the type of assets will dictate the type of attachment process available to you. If the debtor tries to sell the property, the sales proceeds must pay the lienholder (in this case, you).
Note however, that certain types of property are protected from the reach of the debtor’s creditors in most states. Additionally, certain income of the judgment debtor is protected against collection by judgment creditors, such as the debtor’s Social Security, and disability payments, and unemployment and workers’ compensation benefits (except for child support and alimony obligations).
Domesticating a “Foreign” Judgment
If you have a judgment from a court in another state, you will need to domesticate that judgment. You can domesticate your judgment by filing proof of the judgment, providing the last known address of the debtor, and paying the correct filing fees. The clerk of the court will send notice of the domestication action to the judgment debtor. The judgment debtor will have time to respond. If the debtor fails to timely respond, the court will enter the judgment and it will be the same as any other state judgment. On the other hand, if the judgment debtor does object to the domestication in a timely manner, the debtor may request a hearing to dispute the enforcement of the judgment. The debtor may not use this as an opportunity to re-litigate the merits of the underlying case.
Other Enforcement Measures
Depending on the circumstances of your case and applicable state law, you may be able to take other steps to enforce the judgment:
- You can petition the court to hold the debtor in contempt of court for failing to abide by the court’s order.
- Summon the debtor to court to answer your questions about the debtor’s assets.
- Garnish the debtor’s wages.
- Seize the debtor’s bank account and pull out the amount of the debt.
- Foreclose your lien on the debtor’s property.
Each of those actions is a legal proceeding that probably will require the assistance of counsel.
Once You Have a Judgment, How Long Does It Last?
Civil judgments have a life span provided by state law. It ranges from three to 21 years, depending on which state law applies. For example, in Virginia you have 20 years from the date of the judgment (or the domestication of a foreign judgment) to take action on it. That time period can be renewed for an additional 20 years.
At the end of the statutory period, your judgment becomes dormant. “Dormant” means the judgment lapses or expires. You can no longer take action on it unless you “revive” the judgment. In most cases, you must seek to revive your judgment within 10 years from the date it lapsed.
Reviving the judgment is a legal proceeding. It must usually be brought as a revival action in the same court that issued the original judgment. As noted above, most courts allow judgment creditors to reinstate the lapsed judgment within a specified timeframe. In these revival cases, the judgment debtor will have an opportunity to contest your attempt to revive the case.
In summary, once you have a judgment in your favor, it can last a long time and accrue a large amount of interest as long as you take steps to keep the judgment alive.
Consult with the Litigation Experts at KPPB LAW
Getting a judgment in your favor is only the first stage of collecting a disputed debt. You must then take steps to enforce the judgment. Enforcing a judgment against a recalcitrant judgment debtor can be difficult and time consuming. You need to take care to enforce your judgment in a timely manner while complying with applicable state laws. Contact the experienced litigation attorneys at KPPB LAW for more information about your case.