The civil branch of law is what allows a plaintiff to recover money in cases involving non-payment, assault, or medical malpractice. As such, a civil judgment is the outcome of a civil law case, should the defendant lose the case. It is a decision concerning the respective liability of the parties involved in the lawsuit. The specific final judgment that is rendered will depend on the facts of each specific case. This may also be known as judgment on the merit.

A civil judgment is most commonly related to personal injury cases. There are different types of civil judgments, including but not limited to:

  • Summary judgments, which are based on the merits of the law and are determined without a trial;
  • Judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which rules in favor of one party despite a prior verdict in favor of the opposing party;
  • Consent judgment, which is an agreement between the parties involved to resolve the case; and
  • Default judgment, which is an automatic win for the plaintiff due to the defendant failing to appear in court.

How Do I Collect Damages in a Court Judgment?

It is important to note that, although the court may have ruled in favor of the plaintiff, they may face a difficult process when attempting to collect the awarded damages. If the debtor refuses to pay what they have been ordered to pay, the court will not collect judgment on behalf of the plaintiff.

You may be able to negotiate with the debtor for less than the amount of the court judgment, or risk collecting nothing at all. If you choose to pursue other methods, recording your judgment will help better your chances of successfully compelling the debtor to pay you. Recording your judgment generally consists of:

  • Reporting the court judgment to credit reporting agencies;
  • Filing a lien against the debtor’s real property;
  • Having the debtor’s wages garnished; or
  • Seizing the debtor’s bank account(s).

The sheriff, or other local law enforcement, may help you collect. They will need to have the proper paperwork which authorizes them to seize the debtor’s property or assets. Such steps are especially necessary when the debtor’s assets are located outside of the state in which the judgment was made.

A few other means of collecting your court judgment include but are not limited to:

  • Waiting until the deadline has passed;
  • Attempting to collect the judgment on your own, possibly through your attorney;
  • Work out a payment plan with the debtor; and
  • Politely reminding them what they owe.

What Is a Domestic Judgment?

Simply put, a domestic judgment is rendered by the courts of the state or county in which the judgment or its effects are at issue. An example of this would be if a person lives in California, and has judgments in Oregon. All states are to honor judgments issued by other states; meaning, if a creditor obtains a judgment against the debtor in one state, they can request that judgment be recognized in another. Such a procedure is referred to as “domesticating a judgment,” and is further discussed below.

What Is “Domesticating a Judgment?”

Domesticating a judgment allows a creditor to follow the debtor across state lines. The judgment may be enforced as if it were originally rendered in the same state. Guidelines for accomplishing such a task have been set by the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act, or the “UEFJA.” Although not every state has adopted the Act, most have. And without domesticating a judgment according to these guidelines, the judgment is little more than a piece of paper. Domesticating a judgment may go by other names, such as judgment domestication and collection.

Can I Collect My Award if it is Issued Out of State?

The Full Faith and Credit Clause of the federal Constitution requires that states honor the court judgments of other states. This clause is intended to achieve consistency and uniformity across state lines in regards to court rulings. In the previously mentioned example, the person living in California would still be responsible for damages ruled against them in an Oregon court. The state of California would help the state of Oregon enforce the judgment in order for the plaintiff to collect their award. Collecting judgments across state lines are typically facilitated using the UEFJA.

What Should I Do to Start Collecting My Out-Of-State Court Judgment?

In order for an out of state judgment to be enforced, the foreign court must be assured that the court judgment from the issuing state is valid. The issuing court must have followed all constitutional procedures for the judgment to be considered valid, and must not undermine the public policy of the foreign state. An example of this would be wage garnishment across state lines. Some states allow for wage garnishment as a means of collecting judgment, whereas others do not. In such a case, the creditor would not be able to recover from the debtor.

It is important to check the statutes of the foreign state in order to determine what the specific procedures are for enforcing an out of state judgment. There are some state statutes that require presenting the court with a certified copy of the final recorded judgment. They may also require an affidavit regarding the location of the debtor’s property and assets within the foreign state. Other states require that the creditor files a local petition, or application, to have the court judgment enforced.

What Types of Court Judgments Can Be Enforced Out of State?

In general, any judgment recognized by the foreign court can be enforced. The most common types of out of state orders that are enforced include:

  • Orders of divorce;
  • Marriage certificates;
  • Child custody rulings;
  • Restraining orders;
  • Money judgments; and
  • Criminal convictions.

Regarding child custody rulings, the full faith and credit mandate ensures that every state will be required to enforce another state’s child custody order, as well as any modifications made to that order. Additionally, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) requires states to enforce child custody judgments from other states. It was enacted to address concerns about interstate child custody disputes, such as parental kidnapping, and clarify jurisdiction in such cases.

The foreign court will review the validity of out of state orders to determine whether the out of state court had the jurisdictional authority to issue the court judgment. If it is determined to be valid, the creditor has obtained the foreign court’s assistance with enforcing the judgment.

Do I Need a Judgment Enforcement Attorney For Help with a Court Judgment?

If you are the plaintiff and need help with a court judgment, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable personal injury attorney. The attorney can simplify the enforcement process when possible, and ensure that your rights are protected. Additionally, they will represent you in court as needed.