A judgment is simply the official decision of a court at the completion of a lawsuit. It merely indicates that the court has resolved the issues brought before it in a lawsuit in favor of either the plaintiff or the defendant.
It generally stipulates a monetary award to the winner. Where very-large awards are concerned, a judgment is frequently placed ‘on hold’ pending the outcome of an appeal to a higher court.
In civil lawsuits, enforcement of a judgment is not handled by the court that handed down the decision. Instead, enforcement is left in the hands of the parties in the lawsuit.
While most people comply with the court’s order, there are exceptions that require the winning party to take further action to collect the funds that were awarded. In addition to resolving the issues themselves, a judgment in civil cases almost always pays both damages and court costs to the party that prevails.
Perfecting a Judgment
Once a court of law hands-down a judgment, the next step is for the winning party to ‘perfect’ it. While specifics for doing this vary somewhat from state-to-state, perfecting the judgment is always the initial step. To accomplish this, it is important to make certain that the court’s written decision of judgment has been signed by the judge and actually filed by the clerk of the court. Generally, the court will retain the original and supply what is called ‘a conformed copy’ to the judgment creditor (winner).
In many states, Notice of Entry of the judgment must be given to the judgment debtor (loser). The date that the order is issued often determines the time period which the debtor has if he wishes to file any appeal.
Escape Through Bankruptcy
It is possible to discharge the amounts owed under many judgments by filing bankruptcy. However, there are exceptions, including judgments for the payment of child support and delinquent income taxes. Judgments also show on your credit report as they are a matter of public record and are usually discovered by the three main credit bureaus. They are not necessarily considered any more heavily than any other debt you owe and will be added-in to calculate your total indebtedness.
Appealing a Judgment
While a judgment is a lawful order from a recognized court of law, it may be appealed to a higher court if there is sufficient reason to believe that the issuing court erred. Ordinarily, this is a decision that requires a skilled attorney who is thoroughly familiar with both your case and the rules of the appellate courts. In some instances, new evidence may be grounds for appeal and if the appeal is granted, the original court is usually ordered to re-hear the matter. In most cases, appeals are filed only where larger sums are involved because of the additional court fees and attorney’s fees involved in a further legal proceeding.
Collecting on a Judgment
Obtaining a legal judgment does not necessarily ensure that you will ever collect the amounts awarded to you by the court. It merely gives you the right to take any lawful steps available to do so. You can get paperwork for pretty cheap using legal zoom for any legal transaction, could give you a heads up on this. This may include seizing property or other assets, forcing a Sheriff’s sale or even garnishing monies due to the debtor. Many civil lawsuits are never even filed because an investigation fails to turn-up enough assets to make the additional costs worthwhile.
As someone served by a judgement before…I’d seriously look into bankruptcy as an option. It’s really not as bad a process ad you’d think. I felt so much better after mine. Like a ton of bricks lifted off me. Here’s what a bankruptcy costs, fees, etc.