Consumer Credit: What Is A Civil Judgement?

Find out what a civil judgement is and how to collect the debt.

What is a Civil Judgment?

If you sue someone for money owed to you as a result of monetary loss or damages, a court may issue to you a civil judgment as a final decision, ordering one of the parties to pay a certain amount to the other party. Civil lawsuits are not the same as a criminal prosecution. In certain states, a judge can award a crime victim a civil judgment against the offender based on restitution owed to the victim resulting from a crime.

How long do Civil Judgments last?

Once a civil judgment is ordered, the judgment can be enforced for a period of 10 years and can be renewed.

What is the difference between a Civil Judgment and a Small Claims?

A small claims judgment may be filed when the amount being sued for is under a certain dollar amount. For example, if you were to sue someone for an amount under $5,000 you would most likely file a small claims case against the debtor (the individual owing the money to you). You may also file a small claims case "pro se", meaning you would be representing your self as your own attorney. Unlike a civil case, an attorney would most likely represent you. There would also be a difference in the filing fees.

Why would I want to file a Civil Judgment?

If there is a specific sum of money you are seeking, and mediation has been unsuccessful, you may want to have a court award to you a civil judgment against the debtor. A civil judgment can provide another way for the creditor (the individual owed the money) to collect. The judgment is entered into the courts public records and may prevent the debtor from obtaining financing in the future. For example, when a credit check is done on the debtor, the judgment will most likely show up in the credit report. Another way to better your chances of collecting your money would be to pay small additional fee, and have the judgment "docketed". Crime victims do not have to pay a fee to docket a civil judgment, which resulted from a restitution order. Once the judgment is docketed in the courts, it becomes a lien on any real estate owned by the debtor in the county in which the judgment is filed, and will remain on the property for the lifetime of the judgment. If the property is to be sold, the purchaser cannot obtain clear title to the property until the debt is paid. If the debtor did not own any real estate at the time the judgment was docketed, the judgment will become a lien on any property subsequently purchased by the debtor.

How do I collect my money from a Civil Judgment?

If a court has awarded to you a civil judgment, this does not automatically result in the collection of the money owed to you. The process can be quite complicated and you may want your attorney to attempt to collect the money. You would need to know where the debtor works, banks and if there are any other assets. You can file an order for disclosure with the courts and have it mailed to the debtor. If the debtor does not respond, then you may file an "Affidavit in Support of an Order to Show Cause". You would need to have this personally served. If the debtor does not appear in court, you can then ask the court to issue a "Writ of Execution". This is a legal document authorizing garnishment from the debtor's wages. You may have the costs of collection and court fees added to your judgment. Once the judgment has been paid in full, you will want to file a satisfaction of the judgment within the case file.

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