Attorneys are often advised by legal organizations to think long and hard about getting involved in judgment enforcement. Even if they successfully obtain a judgment for clients, it may not be in their best interests to assist with enforcement. Enforcement, which is essentially collecting the monetary portion of the judgment, is rarely easy and straightforward. Attorneys need to consider the likelihood of success before proceeding.
It turns out that individuals and companies considering civil litigation should think about the same thing before proceeding. Going to court to get a judgment has its advantages over traditional debt collection. But if the likelihood of actually getting paid is pretty low, it may not be worth the time, effort, and expense to go to court.
A Judgment Is a Court Decision
Before deciding whether to go to court, it is important to understand what a judgment actually is. A judgment is a court decision. It is a decision rendered by a judge or jury in favor of one party and against another. In a debt collection case, the question at hand would be whether the defendant really owes the debt. A judgment in favor of the plaintiff would recognize the validity of the debt and the debtor’s obligation to pay it.
What must be understood is that a judgment does not carry the same weight as a criminal conviction. A judgment may be rendered against the defendant, but the court will not impose any kind of sentence. The court also will not get involved in collection efforts. Collection is entirely up to the plaintiff and their representatives.
The Judgment Proof Problem
Because courts do not directly involve themselves in collection, there is no guarantee that a plaintiff will ever get paid – even after winning in civil court. The fact of the matter is that some defendants are considered judgment proof. What does that mean?
Judgment Collectors, a Utah collection agency that specializes in judgments, explains that being judgment proof means not having a legitimate means to repay what is owed. A person considered judgment proof:
- Has very little income.
- Has no assets of any value.
- Has very few prospects for the future.
Trying to collect from someone who is judgment proof is like trying to get blood from a stone. Wage garnishment is out of the question because the individual does not have sufficient disposable income. Filing a Writ of Execution is useless because they have no nonexempt assets. And because the individual does not even own a home, placing a lien on their property is not possible.
Things Could Change
Despite the fact that a judgment proof person is difficult to collect from, it doesn’t necessarily follow that taking such a person to court is a bad idea. The fact is that things can change. A person who is legitimately judgment proof today may not be judgment proof two or three years from now. This is why it is worthwhile to look at both the short and long terms when determining whether to go to court.
Along those same lines, creditors should not necessarily forego the civil litigation option simply because collecting judgments is difficult. Companies like Judgment Collectors exist for a reason. If the chances of getting paid are pretty high, there’s nothing wrong with going to court and then turning collection over to professionals.
If you are considering civil litigation against an individual or company, consider the likelihood of actually getting paid. It may or may not be worth your trouble depending on what your assessment reveals.