How do I collect on a Judgment?

by Greg Artim - Date: 2007-04-17 - Word Count: 539 Share This!

You have filed a lawsuit to recover money that is owed to you. After the hearing, the Judge enters a judgment in your favor. Unfortunately, months later, you still haven't received any money from the Defendant. How do you collect on your judgment?

I get this types of question often in my law office. Let's set things straight from the beginning. Just because you sue somebody and win does not mean that you are going to get the money that you sued for, at least not voluntarily. If the Defendant chooses to not pay off the judgment voluntarily, there are some steps that you can take to try to force him to pay the debt.

In Pennsylvania, where I practice law, it has been my experience that individuals who do not hire attorneys to represent them often go to the local District Justice to file their lawsuits. While technically there is nothing wrong with this, as an Attorney I usually do not file lawsuits at that level. The reason is that the District Justice judgment has little value in my eyes. It doesn't have enough teeth to it, so to speak. If you have obtained a judgment at the District Justice, the first step that I would take is to transfer the judgment to the Court of Common Pleas of the county where the suit was commenced. The cost for this varies from county to county, but it is worth the cost and effort, as this type of judgment has some weight to it. After the judgment is entered in the court system, you can ask that the judgment be "indexed" against the Defendant's (judgment debtor's) real property. The purpose of this is to place a lien against any real property that the judgment debtor owns. The next step that I would take would depend upon what type of information that you have regarding the judgment debtor and his assets. If you know where the judgment debtor maintains a bank account, you can attempt to "garnish" the funds in that account. A garnishment is essentially a way to freeze monies in a bank or financial account and have the funds paid directly to you by the judgment debtor's bank. If you do not have banking information on the Defendant, you may try what is called an Execution and Levy. Execution on a judgment is where you use legal process to enforce the judgment by seizure and subsequent sale of the personal property owned by a judgment debtor. This involves having a Deputy Sheriff place a Levy on the judgment debtor's personal property, making it available for a public auction. Depending upon the amount of the judgment, this process can also be used to sell real property, though the costs of doing so are a bit prohibitive for smaller cases.

While there is never any guarantee of receiving monies after a victorious lawsuit, following the aforementioned steps can help you in your recovery attempts. In the event that these steps do not yield immediate results, do not despair. The lien that you have placed on the judgment debtor's home will remain there for quite some time. You may just have to wait him out...

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Greg Artim is an Attorney with offices located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For more answers to your legal questions, please visit his website at

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