Court judgments entered in civil cases constitute legal recognition that a defendant owes some sort of debt to the plaintiff. That debt is almost always financial. And in such cases, defendants do not always cooperate. They may avoid paying what they owe through any number of means.
Plaintiffs are generally at a disadvantage because courts either cannot or will not step in to enforce their own judgments. So what is a plaintiff to do when a defendant doesn’t cooperate? That depends on the nature of the case, the judgment itself, and all applicable laws. The laws vary between the states, so there is no black-and-white formula for collecting from uncooperative debtors.
Establishing a Payment Plan
In a perfect world, every losing defendant would immediately enter into a payment plan with the plaintiff. Being able to quickly establish a payment plan immediately solves the problem and avoids any further action. Unfortunately, things rarely go that way. Collecting on judgments is almost never that easy.
Here’s the thing: a defendant who has avoided responsibility long enough to wind up in civil court likely has no intention of paying even after a judgment is entered against him. Plaintiffs have to go into court with that in mind. Many of them do so with an ace in the back pocket. That ace is a specialized debt collection service, like Salt Lake City’s Judgment Collectors.
Companies offering judgment collection services have access to a litany of tools they can use to track down debtors and get them to pay. And make no mistake about it, the law in most states affords debt collectors plenty of legal opportunities to extract payment.
A favorite tool for collecting on outstanding judgments is wage garnishment. It is a straightforward tool that can get particularly good results.
To get started, the plaintiff or collection service discovers where the defendant works. The next step is to go to the employer and provide a written copy of the judgment along with an enforceable order to garnish the defendant’s wages. The employer is obligated to withhold an amount from every weekly paycheck up to the allowable limits of the law. That money is forwarded to the plaintiff as payment on the judgment.
State laws do place limits on how much of an employee’s pay can be garnished. In most states, higher garnishments are allowable in child support cases.
Liens and Asset Seizure
Two additional tools plaintiffs have at their disposal are liens and asset seizure. A lien is a legal document detailing a financial interest in a piece of real property. For example, the plaintiff may enter a lien against a defendant’s home. That lien prevents the defendant from selling the home until the judgment is satisfied. Any subsequent sale would force the defendant’s attorney to pay off the judgment with proceeds from the sale.
If necessary, plaintiffs can go directly to asset seizure. There are certain assets plaintiffs cannot seize – like a defendant’s primary residence, for example. What the law does allow can be seized and sold to make good on the judgment. Defendants often attempt to avoid asset seizure by transferring their assets to family members or friends.
The key to collecting from uncooperative debtors is creativity. Debtors go to great lengths to hide their assets. But a creative investigator with the willingness to show some initiative can find hidden assets. And once those assets are found, the chances of recovery go way up. Let a debtor know you are about to seize his property and he will beg you for a payment plan. That is how the game works.