Our legal system affords the opportunity to seek relief in non-criminal matters through civil court. In civil court, you sue the other party rather than pressing criminal charges. A win results in a judgment entered in your favor and against the defendants. But then the real work begins.
Anyone planning to take someone else to civil court should be prepared for the long haul. As strange as it sounds, the longest part of the process often has nothing to do with the trial itself. It is related to collecting on a legal judgment after the fact.
Your court case could be scheduled for 30 or 60 days down the road. The day comes, the trial is held, and you prevail. That is all well and good, but now it could take several years for you to actually see the judgment fully enforced.
Judgments Are Legal Proceedings
Salt Lake City’s Judgment Collectors explains that one thing many people do not understand is that judgments are legal proceedings. And with all legal proceedings there are time constraints and delays. So even if everything else goes smoothly, and that’s a rarity, it takes time to work your way through the legal system.
Just as an example, the first step after winning a judgment against the debtor is to collect information from that person regarding employment, residency, assets, etc. But in many states, you cannot begin the information gathering process for at least 30 days. You need to wait that long to give the debtor time to appeal.
Creditors have multiple tools at their disposal to collect on unpaid judgments. But utilizing every one of those tools involves court-enforced time restrictions. You decide to take action, the other party has to be given time to respond. That’s just the way it is.
Other Parties Can Be Involved
The potential for other parties to be involved can also slow things down. A good example here is wage garnishment. It may take you 30 days to get information about the debtor’s employer. Then your attorney needs to prepare the documents and pass them along to the local sheriff who then submits them to the employer. The employer then needs to get with its payroll provider to work things out. All of this takes time.
If you were to try bank account garnishment, a similar process would be required. If you were to decide to place liens on the debtor’s property, you would have to file liens with the county clerk.
Debtors Don’t Always Cooperate
Legal deadlines are enough to slow down collection considerably. But those deadlines are exacerbated when debtors refuse to cooperate. For example, it is not uncommon for debtors to fail to respond to that very first inquiry for personal information. When the debtor does respond, he may be very slow in doing so.
Creditors in some states do have the benefits of legal relief when debtors try to slow walk things. Not responding to a request for information can lead to a bench warrant being issued in some states. A bench warrant allows the sheriff to arrest the debtor and forcibly bring him to court where he provides information in the presence of a judge.
The long and short of it is that winning a judgment against another party is not cut and dried. Collection is your legal right if you win your case, but enforcement is on you. You and your attorney need to be ready for the long haul. It could take years to collect in the absence of all the stars aligning on your behalf.