By: David J. Sideman, Esq.
You may find in your efforts to collect on a debt that getting the money judgment is a lot easier than actually getting the money owed. This article will give you an overview of what to do after your day in court.
Essentially, a money judgment states that you (formerly the plaintiff and now the judgment-creditor) are owed a fixed amount of money from the debtor (formerly the defendant and now the judgment-debtor).
In an ideal world, the judgment debtor recognizes his obligation and immediately pays you all moneys due. However, in case that doesn’t happen for you, there are ways through which you may enforce your judgment and get the money that is owed to you.
If you do not wish to go to too much trouble and do not mind waiting for your money, then you may simply docket the judgment with the Clerk of the Superior Court in Trenton. Once the judgment is docketed in Trenton, it forms a lien on any real property that the judgment debtor owns. Should the judgment debtor seek to sell property, or often when he tries to finance any major purchases, he will be required to satisfy the judgment.
If you are unwilling to wait several years, or do not believe your debtor will ever be in a position to make a major purchase, you will have to take a more proactive approach to collecting on your judgment. Here are a few ways to collect.
1) Levy on the debtor’s bank accounts. If you have information about the judgment debtor’s assets or employment you may upon them. Perhaps the debtor paid you with a check and you have a copy with his or her bank account number. To levy on the debtor’s property, including bank accounts, you must first obtain a Writ of Execution from the Court. The Writ of Execution authorizes the Court Officer (if the matter was in the Special Civil Part of the Courts) or the Sheriff’s Officer (if the matter was heard in the regular Law Division) to execute on the debtor’s property.
Oftentimes, if you have the debtor’s Social Security number and the case was heard in the Special Civil Part, the Court Officer will send out notices to all banks in the area levying on any accounts the debtor may have. If the Court Officer hits a bank account, you will be able to take the money in the account without requiring the sale of any assets or a payout over time. If your debtor has refused to participate in the litigation process, freezing his bank account will often get his attention.
2)Levy on the debtor’s property. Next, and generally more time consuming and expensive, is a property levy, real or personal. Real property is essentially real estate, while personal property is everything else that a debtor owns. You must attempt to satisfy your debt with the debtor’s personal property before turning to real property. If property is levied upon, a sale of the property will be required. However, this will take several months and you may find out along the way that there are other creditors with higher priority then yours in the disbursement of the proceeds.
3)Garnish the debtor’s wages. You may also garnish the debtor’s wages if you know where he works. This involves taking a portion of the debtor’s wages during each pay period. This generally results in the Court Officer sending you a small trickle of a cash once or twice a month. If you have a significant judgment, or the debtor changes employment, wage garnishments may take a long time to satisfy the debt. To obtain a wage garnishment, you must apply to the court for a writ of wage execution and serve it upon the judgment-debtor and his or her employer.
4)Send the debtor an Information Subpoena. If you do not know where the debtor has assets, you may send him or her an Information Subpoena. A form Information Subpoena can be found on the Superior Court’s website at http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/rules/app11l.pdf. This requires the debtor to answer certain questions about his or her assets so you may levy upon them. Should the debtor fail to answer the Information Subpoena (and he or she probably will not answer it), you can eventually obtain a warrant for the arrest of the debtor, who will be compelled to answer the
Information Subpoena before he or she will be released from the county jail. This process requires the filing a great deal of paperwork and is time consuming.
A few final points about the judgment enforcement process:
1) You may use these tools in conjunction with each other at the same time.
2) There are other ways to enforce your judgment outside the scope of this article.
3) If you find that either the judgment debtor or his property is another state, you may enforce your judgment in that state. All states are required to give what is called “full faith and credit” to the judgments of sister states. You will be required to docket your judgment with the sister state through a procedure that generally varies from state to state. Accordingly, it is wise to consult an attorney from the state the debtor resides in or where his property is located.
Finally, when you collect all money due under the judgment, you are required to notify the court. This notification is given through a Warrant to Satisfy Judgment.
This article has been a brief overview of the judgment collection process and is not meant to be a substitute for legal advice. The courts have many forms to aid you with the collection of a judgment. You may also wish to retain the services of an attorney with experience in debt collection to expedite the collection process as there are many documents required to be completed and properly served along the road to the collection.
This article was prepared by David Sideman, Esq., an associate with the firm of Ehrlich, Petriello, Gudin & Plaza, A Professional Corporation, headquartered in Newark, New Jersey. It is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney to discuss your particular matter. The firm can be reached at (973) 643-0040 or by e-mail at Info@epgp-law.com.