Every day in this country, individual consumers and business owners file civil suits against others they feel have wronged them. When a plaintiff wins their suit, a judgment is entered against the defendant. That defendant becomes a financial debtor in the sense that they must pay the awarded judgment, plus any additional costs. In some cases, the defendant was a debtor before the case was even filed.
Perhaps you just won a judgment. The court agreed that you were in the right, and now the defendant owes you a financial settlement. What happens now?
What you are about to read is a general summary of the possible directions your case could take. Understand that state laws vary, so what might happen in another state might not apply where you live. Make a point of learning the law in your state before you proceed.
1. Post-Judgment Discovery
In very rare cases, the defendant comes to court already prepared to pay. With the final gavel entering a judgment against them, they pull out their checkbook and settle up. Again, that is exceedingly rare. In most cases, plaintiffs need to go through a process known as discovery. This process is designed to reveal the defendant’s assets so that the two parties can work out some sort of payment.
Some states give defendants 30 days to appeal before discovery can begin. Other states allow discovery but do not allow plaintiffs to begin collection efforts during that initial 30 days.
2. Payment Plan Worked Out
Once discovery and collection begin in earnest, one of three things will generally happen. The first possibility is that the defendant will realize they have been beaten and will willingly work out some sort of payment plan. Perhaps you and the defendant can figure out some sort of installment arrangement that makes you both happy. This would be the ideal solution, though it is not the norm.
3. The Defendant Refuses to Cooperate
The second possibility is that the defendant refuses to cooperate with either discovery or working out a payment plan. Now you are faced with a choice: continue to try enforcing the judgment on your own or bring in a collection agency. Judgment Collectors, a Salt Lake City, UT collection agency that specializes in judgments, says bringing in a professional as soon as possible is the best way to go when defendants do not cooperate.
A specialized judgment collection agency knows how to use the available legal tools to complete discovery and move on to collection. By contrast, you might not know what to do next.
4. The Defendant Skips Town
Some defenders choose to not cooperate by not providing correct contact and employment information. They do not answer the phone or come to the door. They don’t respond to snail mail or email. They are tough enough to deal with. But some defendants choose the third possibility: skipping town.
A defendant who skips town is also likely to actively attempt to hide assets. A skilled collection agency utilizes what is known as skip tracing to find both the person and any assets that could be seized and sold. When things reach this point, it is almost impossible for creditors to collect without help. They almost always need a collection agency.
This is generally what happens in the weeks and months immediately following a court-ordered judgment. The plaintiff, or judgment creditor if you will, may or may not be dealing with a cooperative defendant. In many cases, the best chances of getting paid rest with hiring a professional collection agency that specializes in judgments.