If you’ve won a judgment in civil court but have not been able to collect, you might be able to file a lien against the defendant’s property. This is a tricky procedure that doesn’t generate immediate cash, but it might be your only option. Unfortunately, the law doesn’t provide many legal remedies to winners of civil court judgments, and demands only go so far – even when they come from a judge.
In most cases, it is a good idea to give a defendant six months to pay the judgment you won in civil court. This gives them an opportunity to make good on the money owed without resorting to other measures, and is far less expensive for the plaintiff. After five months, send the defendant a letter by certified mail, return-receipt requested, informing him that you intend to seek other remedies if payment is remitted by a certain date.
If you still haven’t received your judgment, it’s time to go back to civil court. You’ll want to ask the judge to hold the defendant in contempt for non-payment, and to order a disclosure of assets to you. This will tell you what property the defendant owns in case you do decide to file a lien. If he doesn’t comply, serious legal problems will ensue, and the judge will make him aware of that.
Once you know what property the defendant holds, you can begin the process of filing a lien. This requires that you go to the county in which he owns property and register your civil court judgment with the lands and records office. Ask the court clerk if this automatically generates a lien, or if other paperwork is required. The laws vary from county to county, so don’t make any assumptions. If the process is complicated, hiring a lawyer isn’t a bad idea. In condo property management, the concept of hiring a lawyer is actually a necessity. This will protect both parties.
When you file a lien against a defendant’s property, you don’t receive money right away. You have to wait until the defendant either refinances the property through a bank or sells it to a third party. This could take years – if it ever happens – and you might want to pursue other methods of collection while you wait for the lien to be satisfied, such as asking the courts to garnish wages until the judgment is paid in full.
You should also know that if there is another lien filed against the defendant’s property, it will be satisfied before yours. I’ve seen cases where six or more liens have been filed, and the defendant still hasn’t satisfied the civil court judgments against him. It’s a waiting game, and sometimes it never pans out.
If the defendant dies before satisfying the court judgment and before the lien has been paid out, the title to the property is transferred to whomever is named in his will. The lien doesn’t have to be paid during or after this transfer, though it remains on the title. At that point, the new owner can choose to sell in order to satisfy the lien or hold on to the property and not pay it out. Again, this is a point of frustration for many plaintiffs in civil court cases.