What Happens After a Judgement is Entered Against You?
Today, we’re going to talk about what are your obligations and your options if a judgment has been entered against you.
Hi, I’m Mike Ziegler, Managing Attorney for the Debt Fighters. We’re a Florida law firm focused on helping consumers eliminate serious debt.
After a lawsuit has started, first there will be usually a process where you’re informed of the lawsuit, called service of process. And after you’ve been informed of the lawsuit, at some point, sometimes if it’s a contested case after discovery and hearings and maybe even jury trial, a judgment may be entered. Or if it’s uncontested case, then oftentimes judgment will be entered by default, meaning that the defending party didn’t participate, and so the party bringing the lawsuit wins virtually automatically.
After the judgment has been entered, first, what are your obligations? Let’s talk about the obligations after judgment has been entered. In Florida, most judgments come with an information form. So it’s worth understanding what a judgment really means. A judgment means that there initially was a dispute about whether one person usually owed money, and after the judgment has been entered, the law recognizes that in fact a monetary obligation has been owed. The court system provides tools for the company or the person who is owed money to be able to collect on it.
That process is called discovery and aid of execution.
That process begins with a form commonly referred to as the Form 1.977, which is a reference to the Florida Rule of Civil Procedure Attachment, which provides the template form. In that form, it’s going to ask the defendant, now called the judgment debtor, information about their financial wherewithal. It’s going to be information about the assets they have, the income they have, and where all that information is located.
Now keep in mind, while providing and disclosing this information may be uncomfortable, it’s also part of the obligation, part of the burden of having a judgment entered against you. You’re required to give that financial transparency. So while there is no debtor’s prison anymore, if the defendant fails to provide the information that they’re required to provide under those forms, then they can, in extreme circumstances, have executed on them a writ of bodily attachment, which in fact is an arrest warrant. So it is important that the response that information is given and that’s given truthfully and accurately.
Likewise, after judgment is entered, the judgment debtor may have to participate in a deposition in aid of execution. This is effectively like a recorded conversation with the party that has the judgment, or their lawyer, where just like in the form we talked about, the judgment debtor’s required to give information about their financial wherewithal.
Again, this isn’t the most comfortable processes, but it is something that is part of the lawful collection process. In addition to the informational disclosures, the party that’s received the judgment may take lawful steps to collect on the judgment itself. They can garnish wages, bank accounts, and they can levy physical assets and unprotected real estate, usually real estate that’s not your homestead.
Common question about garnishment. Can my wages or bank account be garnished if they’re protected, if you have a protection like Social Security or head of household or some other protections to Florida consumers. The answer is kind of. So, in most circumstances, asset protections or protections from garnishment are a reactive process, meaning the company that has the judgment usually will first ask for and execute on the garnishment. They will begin garnishing the wages or the bank account. And then after those assets have been frozen, the burden is then on the judgment debtor to file or request a claim of exemption or a notice to the court that the assets are protected, and then there’s a hearing on that request for protection. So while those protections are valid, there is a reactive process of imposing those protections.
What are your options after a garnishment has been entered? There are a few different options. First, you can ask to set aside the judgment. While there is a burden to overcome an order to set aside a judgment, in other words, if the judge has already made a decision, the burden is on the party seeking to reevaluate that decision to change the decision. But it can be possible in some circumstances to set judgment aside. Generally, if this is something that you are considering doing, you’re going to want to work diligently because part of the requirements in order to set aside a judgment is that you work as quickly as you are able to, to ask the judgment to be set aside.
The second option would be to pay the judgment, particularly in full. Usually, payments can be made to the court clerk or arrangements can be made directly with company that has the judgment, but you can make payment on the judgment. Third option, in some instances, you may be able to settle on the judgment balance. So even though there may be a judgment for a full amount, most parties that hold judgments recognize that, just like in every other aspect of life, time is money, a bird in hand is worth two in a bush. And so there may be a willingness to reduce or make arrangements on the judgment in order to make it more accessible and often to resolve the judgment. Final option can be filing for bankruptcy, and while bankruptcy options vary on a number of circumstances, judgment generally can be discharged, absent a few exceptions.
So that’s some information on what happens after judgment has been entered and what your options look like. If you have any questions about a judgment that has been entered against you, what your resolution options may look like, I encourage you to schedule a complimentary consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.
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