FORT LEE, Va. (Oct. 13, 2016) -- So, you’ve taken someone to court and obtained a judgment against them. All done, right? Not necessarily. Now it’s up to you to take action to collect what you’re legally owed.
The quickest, easiest route is simply for you, the “creditor,” to arrange with the opposing party, now the “debtor,” for the payment of the judgment. But sometimes the debtor can be non-responsive, antagonistic or just plain uncooperative. This can often make collecting on the judgment more difficult than obtaining that judgment in the first place, and you will almost certainly need to seek an attorney’s help. Collecting on a judgment is a three-step process:
• Find the debtor’s assets. An attorney will help you decide which of the debtor’s assets (like real property, personal property, wages or bank accounts) you can use to collect the judgment.
This can be difficult; it’s not easy to find out where a debtor has bank accounts, what personal property they own or where they work. They might not have some or any of these assets at all. An attorney can help find the debtor’s assets and decide what assets to attach to best accomplish your goals. This is especially important because other creditors also might be looking to satisfy a judgment using this debtor’s assets, and their debts might take priority over yours.
• Attach your judgment to those assets. The type of asset selected determines the next step in the process of collecting the judgment. Depending on the asset chosen, you will use the Virginia Court system to obtain some version of a lien or legal order on that property, telling the world and the debtor you plan to use that property to satisfy the judgment.
For example, if you decide to use a debtor’s real property to satisfy the judgment, you will record a judgment lien on that property. For personal property like cars or jewelry, you would obtain a “Writ of Execution” or a “Writ of Fieri Facias” allowing the sheriff’s office to help obtain that property and sell it to satisfy the judgment.
If you prefer to attach a debtor’s bank accounts or wages, you will obtain a “Writ of Execution” and a “Summons in Garnishment,” notifying the debtor’s bank or employer, and the court, you will be “garnishing” or deducting from the debtor’s accounts or wages to satisfy the judgment. This starts another smaller legal process to determine how much will be garnished and over what amount of time.
• Obtain the assets. After using the courts to attach the assets, you can go about collecting what is owed. Once you obtain a judgment lien on a piece of real property, then determine the right time to use that property to collect on the judgment; you could either wait for the debtor to sell it (and take from those proceeds), wait for another creditor to foreclose on it (and take the proceeds from the ensuing foreclosure sale), or initiate the foreclosure yourself.
Or, once you have a Writ of Execution or Fieri Facias for the debtor’s personal property, work with the appropriate sheriff’s office to seize those assets, which could either be sold or you could threaten to sell to pressure the debtor into paying what he or she owes.
And finally, for wages, work with the court and the debtor’s bank or employer to have the debtor’s account funds or wages paid to you, the creditor. This last step can be the most complicated, and will probably involve even more court proceedings. An attorney’s help is needed.
Remember, it is the sheriff’s office, not the police department, that helps enforce liens or writs against someone’s property in that office’s jurisdiction. Ask for the sheriff’s office “Civil Process” component for more assistance.
For more guidance, or to begin the process of executing a judgment on property you have already attached, you should contact the sheriff’s office or clerk of court where the property you are attaching is located.
The Client Services Division of the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, Fort Lee, is unable to represent people in enforcing a judgment, but community members are always welcome to make an appointment with a client services attorney with any questions.