If I win my case and get a money judgment, when will the defendant pay me?
Depending on the defendant’s financial situation, it can be very difficult to collect a judgment. Some people do not work or have assets and are not able to pay judgments. Other defendants may have the money but refuse to pay it out of spite or for other reasons. A judgment is really just a piece of paper that serves as judicial recognition that this person owes you this amount of money. Unfortunately, just because the judge awarded you a money judgment does not mean that the defendant is immediately going to pay the amount owed. That might happen, but more often, the person with the money judgment will have to take steps to enforce that judgment to force the defendant to pay.
If the defendant has money or other assets, here are some steps you can take to try and collect (enforce) your judgment:
- One of the first steps you could take is to file the judgment with the county clerk. A judgment that is on file will show up on the defendant’s record if s/he tries to buy or sell a house, take out a loan, buy a car, etc. Having a judgment on their record will encourage some people to pay off the judgment.
- If you do not know where the defendant works or what assets s/he might have, some states allow you to serve an information subpoena on the defendant. An information subpoena is a document that a defendant must complete that contains information about his/her financial status. If s/he does not complete the subpoena, it might be possible to ask the court to punish him/her for failing to respond.
- After you file the judgment, you might be able to take additional steps to collect on it. If you know where the defendant works or has a bank account, then it might be possible to garnish the defendant’s wages or take (seize)his/her assets. You should contact the sheriff or the constable in your area to see if s/he might be able to assist you with this process.
However, sometimes none of these are possible because of the defendant’s poor financial situation. A person who cannot pay a judgment is referred to as “judgment-proof” because s/he does not have wages that can be garnished, a bank account or tax refund that can be accessed, or other ways to pay off a judgment. If the person you are thinking about suing is judgment-proof, you may want to think about whether or not the cost and stress of bringing a lawsuit will be worth it when you may not be able to collect on any judgment you might receive.