Civil litigation is quite a bit different from criminal prosecution. It is a lot more nuanced and complicated. For example, civil judgments are not as clear-cut as criminal convictions. So much so that firms like Salt Lake City’s Judgment Collectors are hired by clients to pursue payment of unpaid civil judgments.
Perhaps you’ve had a civil judgment entered against you. If not, perhaps you have been served and you’re anticipating losing the case. Either way, you would do well to learn all you can about how civil judgments work. Knowing the law could keep you out of further trouble.
Here are the top five things to know about civil judgments:
1. They Constitute Legal Recognition
Whether a civil judgment is the result of a lawsuit or a merely tool to get you to pay an outstanding debt, it represents legal recognition that the debt exists. Essentially, a court entering a judgment against you recognizes that you owe the creditor money. That recognition gives the creditor the right to compel you to pay.
How you can be compelled differs from one state to the next. Nonetheless, a civil judgment’s nature as an official record means there is no escaping the debt. You owe it and that’s that.
2. Courts Don’t Enforce Judgments
Next, understand that courts do not enforce judgments. If you are convicted of a crime, the court can sentence you to prison time. But in a civil case, enforcement is left up to the parties involved. Enforcement of a civil judgment is the responsibility of the creditor and any involved attorney or judgment collection agency.
3. Law Enforcement Can Be Brought In
Even though civil judgments are enforced by creditors and their representatives, law enforcement can be brought into the equation. In fact, they often are. Law enforcement agencies assist in a number of ways. For example, consider wage garnishment. It is the local sheriff who serves the garnishment order.
If a bank account is garnished, it is the local sheriff who serves the bank. The local sheriff would be engaged if a piece of real estate were seized to cover the debt. All this is to say that you still might have to deal with law enforcement if you try to skip out on a civil judgment.
4. Judgment Amounts Can Increase
Many people don’t know that the monetary value of a civil judgment is not necessarily static. Many states allow creditors to collect all of the costs associated with pursuing payment. That would include attorney’s fees, judgment collection agency fees, administrative expenses, and any other reasonable costs. Some states even allow creditors to assess interest on unpaid judgments.
5. Judgments Can Be Renewed
People with a history of not paying their debts find ways to avoid making good on civil judgments until time runs out. On average, civil judgments are enforceable for 7 to 10 years. If a creditor has not collected within that time frame, there are two options. The first option is to let it go. The second option is to renew the judgment.
This is mentioned so that you understand that there is no statute of limitations on judgments. They can be renewed as needed. It is really a matter of whether or not the creditor wants to continue pursuing payment.
Remember, a civil judgment is a court record establishing that you owe a debt. Creditors and their debt collection agencies will use every tool at their disposal to extract payment from you. So if a judgment is ever entered against you, your best bet is just to pay up.