Collecting Judgments

The court's judgment only entitles the prevailing party (the judgment creditor) to recover money from the other party (the judgment debtor). For example, the judgment does not direct that money be handed over at a certain date or time. It is up to the judgment creditor to collect the judgment.

The judgment is collected by obtaining payment from the judgment debtor; however, there may be no cash available to pay the judgment. In that case, the judgment creditor may seize and sell certain assets owned by the judgment debtor.

Sidebar: Laws in every state exempt certain assets from seizure. For example, a person's home cannot be seized and sold to pay off a judgment.

Before the assets can be seized, the judgment creditor may be required to obtain an Abstract of Judgment to file in the county deed records. Once the judgment is recorded, the judgment creditor has a lien on any real estate the judgment debtor owns. The lien means that before the judgment debtor can sell her house, she must pay the judgment.

A judgment creditor can garnish the judgment debtor's bank account if he has the proper information. A writ of garnishment is prepared and served on the bank (not the judgment debtor) by the sheriff. The writ orders the bank to turn over any funds available up to the amount of the judgment.