You Have a Judgment - But How Do You Get What You Are Owed?
Now that you have a judgment, how do you go about collecting the money you are owed? It may surprise you to learn that obta
ining a court judgment doesn't necessarily put any money into your pocket. You’ve done the hard work of filing suit and going through all the necessary steps to get the judgment. But often that's only half the battle.
If a debtor doesn't pay your judgment voluntarily, then there are several legal options to attempt to collect the judgment. This is why doing your due diligence on the front end matters – the more information you have about your debtor, the easier it will be to collect.
The first thing to know is that your judgment is a general lien against all real and personal property. Real property refers to any real estate holdings, while personal property is everything else, i.e. cars, money, furniture, etc. owned by the Defendant. To enforce this judgment lien, a Writ of Fieri Facias (or “FiFa”) must be obtained from the clerk of court in the county where the judgment was rendered. The FiFa must then be recorded on the General Execution Docket (“GED”) in the superior court in any county where the Defendant resides and/or owns property in order for your judgment lien to attach to that property.
It is also important to know that under Georgia law, a recorded judgment becomes dormant seven years from the date it was rendered. So if you are not able to collect on the judgement within seven years, you must renew it. This seven year period is renewed in two steps. The first step is to have the sheriff enter a “nulla bona” on the original FiFa. A “nulla bona” is meant to indicate that the judgment debtor has no assets that can be collected. The second step is to then re-record the FiFa marked “nulla bona” on the General Execution Docket of the county where the judgment was rendered. There are fees associated with each step that vary from county to county.
The renewed judgment is effective for an additional seven (7) years. We strongly recommend that our clients make an administrative notation in their records so that they remember to renew the recorded judgment before the expiration of the seven year period. Unless you give your attorney specific written instructions to do so, most do not consider it part of their representation to remind a client of the expiration of the seven year period or to automatically renew the judgment.
Another option for collecting and enforcing a judgment is called a garnishment. A garnishment is a separate lawsuit filed against any source of income for the Defendant. The most typical source of income is a Defendant’s bank account. Upon service of the garnishment lawsuit on the Defendant’s bank, the bank must turn over any monies that are in the Defendant’s account at the time the lawsuit was served as well as any monies that are deposited in the account within five days after service of the lawsuit. If you are interested in filing a garnishment but do not know the location of Defendant’s bank(s), there are services that can attempt to locate such assets for a fee. A wage garnishment can also be filed against a Defendant’s employer if that information is known. A wage garnishment will take a set percentage of the Defendant’s wages (no more than 25%) over a 180-day period.
Georgia law also allows judgment holders to conduct post-judgment discovery to try and determine potential assets to garnish or levy. Methods of post-judgment discovery include serving the Defendant with written questions and requests for production of documents, as well as subpoenaing the Defendant to appear for a post-judgment deposition.
At Downs Law, we are aware of how confusing this can be when you are not familiar with the process. That’s why we’re here! If you need to collect a debt or already have a judgement that you would like us to help you collect, call us right away - time is of the essence. Contact us to see how we can help.