A civil judgment is a final decision made by the court ordering a party to pay a specific amount as restitution for money owed as a result of monetary loss and damages. Civil proceedings differ from criminal prosecutions and are not necessarily dependent on each other in terms of results. As often cited even though O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder in a criminal proceeding he was found guilty in civil court and ordered to pay restitution to the victims' families.
Once a civil judgment is decided by the court the order can be enforced for a period of up to 10 years. Civil judgments can also be renewed if necessary to collect the award or seek additional compensation for lawyer fees and other expenses.
Small claims court can issue civil judgments without the need of an attorney. Small claims court typically issues civil judgments for amounts under $5,000 in most states. Be sure to check your state to determine what the maximum amount is for small claims court. Small claims courts make it easy to receive justice because often small claims cases can be filed "pro se" which means the plaintiff will be representing themselves as their own attorney. For amounts greater than $5,000 it is normal to have a lawyer representing you in court and as such there would be additional fees involved was should be included in the request for compensation.
Civil judgments are a necessary part of the legal process when other avenues of remediation have failed. If arbitration and mediation are unable to successfully resolve the matter a civil judgment can be taken against the debtor, the person who owes money, and additional legal means to be used to collect on the judgment. Court cases are matters of public record and once a judgment is obtained the debtor may find it more difficult to get credit in the future due to the judgment appearing on the debtor's credit report. As public record, civil judgments can also appear in background checks and could affect future employment.
Besides the social and financial implications of being awarded civil judgment, additional measures can be used to collect monies owed. For an additional fee a judgment can be "docketed" which means the award becomes a lien on any real estate the debtor may own in the corresponding county that the judgment was awarded. Placing a lean on property means it will not have a clean title which can prohibit any sale until the debt is paid in full and the lien is cleared.
Being awarded a civil judgment by the court does not necessarily mean money will be readily available for collection from the debtor. Ideally once the person loses the court case they would cut a check and pay the judgment. However, should that not happen then the process of collecting money owed can actually become more complicated. An attorney may be necessary to file the appropriate legal documentation with the court to pursue collecting the judgment.
Information may need to be obtained on where the debtor works, banks and to develop a list of other tangible assets which could be liquidated or repossessed to satisfy the judgment. Step one is the file an "Order For Disclosure" with the court and have it mailed to the debtor. If this that fails then an additional request for an "Affidavit in Support of an Order to Show Cause" can then be filed which has to be personally served to the debtor. Step two will require the debtor to appear in court to address the issue and if they fail to do so then a "Writ of Execution" can be filed. This allows the collection of personal property as well as garnishment of wages to satisfy the judgment.
Once the judgment has been fully repaid additional paperwork will need to be filed with the court stating that the judgment has been satisfied. While this may seem like a lot of effort both in filing a civil lawsuit, appearing in court and collecting on the judgment these tools are made available to those individuals who have incurred monetary loss or damages as a result of the actions of others. Whether or not you choose to take this course of action is in your hands but should you do so be thorough and professional at all times and know that the law is on your side.
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