What Happens If a Defendant Does Not Pay a Judgment?


What Happens If a Defendant Doesn’t Pay a Judgment?

Getting a judgment against someone in court can feel like a big win, but collecting on that judgment is a whole other story. If the person you sued (the defendant) doesn’t pay up, it can get complicated fast. Here’s what you need to know about getting your cash when someone doesn’t pay a judgment.

The Court Doesn’t Collect Judgments for You

A big misconception is that the court will collect the judgment for you. Nope! The court does not get involved in collecting judgments or chasing down debtors. As the plaintiff (the one who filed the lawsuit), it’s 100% your responsibility to collect on the judgment. The court just makes the legal ruling that the defendant owes you money.
You might get a court order called a “writ of execution” that allows the sheriff to seize assets like cars or bank accounts. But you usually have to take legal steps to make that happen (more on that later). Bottom line – don’t expect the court to do the dirty work for you.

You Have Options to Collect the Money

Just because the court doesn’t collect the judgment doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. Here are some of the main options for squeezing that money out of the defendant:

Wage Garnishment: This is when the court orders the defendant’s employer to withhold money from their paycheck to pay toward the judgment. Texas allows up to 50% of disposable earnings to be garnished, and federal law caps it at 25% – so you get a nice chunk of change this way.

Bank Levy: If you know where the defendant banks, you can get a court order to seize money from their accounts. Checking, savings, CDs – it’s all fair game. This is a popular option, but you need current account info.

Property Lien: You can put a lien on the defendant’s house or car, which means the property can’t be sold or refinanced until the judgment is paid. This puts pressure on them to pay up. If they don’t, you could eventually force a sale.

Seize Assets: As mentioned earlier, you can get a court order called a “writ of execution” that allows the sheriff to physically take possessions from the defendant to cover the judgment. This could include cars, jewelry, electronics, art – almost anything of value.

It’s On You to Find the Assets

The hard part about collecting a judgment is that the defendant probably isn’t going to tell you where their money is. And the court isn’t going to hunt down their assets for you. So you have to play private investigator to locate bank accounts, find employers, track down property records, and identify assets to go after.

This can take some legwork, but courts give you a lot of tools, like:
Subpoenas to get financial records from banks, employers, etc.
Interrogatories (written questions) the defendant must answer
Depositions to question the defendant under oath
With some detective work, you can dig up the info you need to start seizing assets. I’d recommend hiring a collections attorney rather than doing this yourself, however. They have experience getting results.

Yes, Debtors Go to Jail (Sometimes)

Here’s the crazy part – debtors can actually be arrested in some cases if they refuse to pay. It’s rare and happens when they really thumb their nose at the judgment. If you can prove the debtor has money hidden somewhere and refuses to pay out of spite – aka “willful contempt” – the judge can slap them with jail time until they cough up the cash.
In one famous case, a Red Sox fan was jailed for contempt after refusing to pay $18,000 for seasons tickets he backed out on. Hardcore! But contempt charges are tough to get and most debtors avoid jail as long as they make a minimal effort to pay something.

Be Prepared for Pushback

Many defendants don’t go quietly – they’ll look for any way to avoid or delay paying. Common stall tactics include:
Appealing the judgment
Claiming exemptions like bankruptcy or disability
Transferring assets to someone else’s name
Skipping town and going off the grid
So it often takes persistence and patience to get satisfaction when someone refuses to pay a judgment. Don’t give up at the first sign of resistance. Keep pursuing all legal options, with the help of an attorney, until you get as much paid as possible.

Bottom Line

Collecting a judgment requires motivation and some legal know-how. But with options like wage/bank garnishment, asset seizures, and contempt charges, determined plaintiffs can often get paid, even from defendants who resist paying. My advice is don’t delay, hire a lawyer, and keep up the pressure until the debtor forks over the cash they owe you. It can be a long battle, but hang in there. Justice gets served in the end!

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