In civil law, a judgment is a court-ordered establishment of a legal debt. It is usually the result of a lawsuit. Once entered, a creditor has a guaranteed right to collect on the debt using any legal means available. Likewise, the debtor has a legal responsibility to pay. Having said all that, all judgments are negotiable to some extent. Why? Because time works in favor of debtors.
State laws governing civil judgments vary. As a general rule, a standard judgment is enforceable for 7 to 10 years. Most states allow creditors to renew judgments prior to their expiration. Even so, if a creditor is still looking at trying to collect 10 years after the fact, is continuing to pursue the judgment worthwhile?
Savvy attorneys specializing in collections are thoroughly familiar with enforcement limits. They also know that time is a friend to the debtor and an enemy to the creditor. Negotiating the debt is a way to quickly settle.
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Everything Takes Time
Everything in civil court takes time. If you want to sue someone to collect a debt, you have to serve the debtor according to state law. The debtor generally has anywhere between 20 and 35 days to respond. Then you go to court. If you win the case, your judgment is not entered immediately. Instead, it takes the court clerk several weeks to complete the filing. It could be several months if the court is bogged down at that time.
Next, you may have to bring the debtor back to court in order to force him to answer questions about his finances under oath. If that’s the case, the court has to issue a summons. The debtor has the opportunity to respond to that summons prior to the court date.
Assuming all goes as planned, you and your attorney or judgment collection agency must begin the process of extracting payment. You might try to make payment arrangements initially. But because the debtor doesn’t respond to your phone calls and emails in a timely manner, it could take you 30 to 60 days just to determine that he has no intention of setting up a payment plan.
Moving on to Other Means
Some 6 to 12 months after the fact, you may determine that eliciting the debtor’s cooperation isn’t going to work. You will find other means. Perhaps you will attempt wage garnishment. Maybe you will look at asset seizure or property liens instead. Regardless of your choice, more time is required to fulfill your legal obligations.
Garnishment takes some time to set up. Once in place, it could take years to generate enough money to pay off the debt. As for liens and levies, they take time to enforce. Liens can be especially lengthy because the debtor could hold on to a piece of property for years before trying to sell it.
All of this is bad enough, but what do you do if debtors make every effort to hide their assets and whereabouts? Just tracking them down can take more time than you want to spend.
Time Frustrates Creditors
The most important thing to know here, according to Salt Lake City’s Judgment Collectors, is that experienced debtors know just how much time frustrates creditors. Debtors know that if they stonewall long enough, most of their creditors will eventually give up.
As a result, creditors are often willing to negotiate. They will take less than they are owed just to get it over and done with. They would rather settle for less then put in the time necessary to collect in full.