If you’ve recently won your trial or obtained a default judgment, it’s now time to enforce your judgment. You are also now considered a “judgment creditor.” In some instances, judgment debtors will simply pay the money that is owed or set up some form of payment plan. In many others instances, you may need the court’s assistance in collecting the judgment. Civil judgments are good for twenty years in Virginia.
The first step in collecting a judgment from a debtor is typically the execution of an asset search. An asset search will allow you to identify any real estate, vehicles, or other potential assets to which you can attach your judgment lien. Debtor’s interrogatories are essentially an asset search with the aid of the court, where the debtor is placed under oath and required to disclose all assets. Once the debtor’s assets are known, the creditor has several options with which to proceed.
In Virginia, a judgment in the circuit court is docketed automatically against the debtor’s real property in that county. A creditor can attach the judgment to the debtor’s real property owned in different counties by simply docketing the judgment in each such county. Judgments obtained in general district court typically require the creditor to obtain an abstract of judgment and docket the judgment in the land records of the circuit court. To docket the judgment in another state, the creditor needs to obtain a triple seal from the circuit court and domesticate the judgment in the new state. Once a lien is attached to the debtor’s property, the creditor can foreclose on the lien or simply wait until the property is sold at some later date. When it is sold, any proceeds will be used to repay the amount of the judgment.
In order to attach a judgment lien to personal property (i.e. cars, equipment, jewelry, etc.), a creditor can levy such property. In practice, a levy is a request for the sheriff to seize or “list” specific personal property. Any property seized or listed by the sheriff can later be sold at a sheriff’s sale, and the proceeds will be used to repay the amount of the judgment.
One of the most effective collection tools is the use of a garnishment. A garnishment is a court order directing that money (wages, money payable, or money in a bank account) be seized to satisfy a debt. A creditor can issue a garnishment summons to the debtor’s employer or bank, and the requested funds will be distributed to the court and held for the creditor.
Often times, collecting a judgment is just as difficult as obtaining the judgment. Fortunately, there are many different avenues and options to assist in collecting the judgment. If you need help collecting a judgment or defending against a collection proceeding contact us at 703-280-0037.