The modern court system in the State of Texas provides many protections for judgment debtors. Navigating the post-judgment collection process can be overwhelming whether the judgment is from state court, federal district court, or out-of-state.
After countless demand letters go ignored, creditors often face even more litigation in hopes of getting paid. In this way, a judgment creditor’s celebration after obtaining a judgment is often short-lived, as they soon realize the judgment is only a piece of paper and there is more work to be done. Moreover, most of the property that debtors have – their home, their car, their furnishings – qualifies as “exempt” from enforcement of a judgment under the law.
So, how do you collect on a civil judgment?
How to Enforce a Judgment
While the situation described above may seem daunting, judgment creditors in Texas should remember that they do have numerous options when it comes to how a judgment can be enforced.
There are several ways to collect on a judgment in Texas. First, if you have a Texas judgment, you can begin the collections process immediately by filing an “abstract of judgment” in the county clerk’s office where you believe the judgment debtor owns “non-exempt” real property.
Exempt versus Non-Exempt Property
What is non-exempt property? Unfortunately, and especially when dealing with individual judgment debtors instead of businesses debtors, non-exempt property is a small percentage of what most people own. It’s the property that is not “exempt” as a matter of law.
A long list of exempt property in Texas includes:
- the “homestead,” which is a house and up to one acre of land in an urban area, or a house and up to two acres of land in a rural area
- current wages for personal services
- personal property that is not more than $60,000 (if married) or $30,000 (if single)
- up to a certain dollar amount of items including
- home furnishings
- provisions for consumption
- farming and ranching tools and implements
- vehicles for each person in the household who holds a license to drive
To find out whether a judgment debtor has any non-exempt property, a creditor can use the discovery processes of civil litigation, such as interrogatories asking questions about a debtor’s assets. Once you’ve filed your interrogatories with the court, you can have a sheriff’s deputy deliver them to the person you sued, or you can mail them yourself using certified mail with return receipt requested.
Post-judgment discovery tools such as interrogatories can be used to obtain information directly from the judgment debtor about his or her non-exempt assets, and generally, the courts will stay involved and provide assistance. In fact, failure to timely respond to post-judgment interrogatories will permit the creditor to file a motion to compel, and failure to comply with an order to compel may lead the court to hold the debtor in contempt.
Filing the Abstract of Judgment
Once you have identified non-exempt property owned by the judgment debtor, you are in a good position to file your abstract of judgment with the county clerk. Once the abstract of judgment is filed and properly recorded, then a “judgment lien” is created which will automatically attach to any non-exempt real property owned or thereafter acquired by the debtor and located in that county.
There is no limit to the number of counties a judgement creditor can file an abstract of judgment in. In fact, a creditor can file an abstract in every one of Texas’ 254 counties (though each will have additional fees). The practical effect of this is to warn all potential buyers of a piece of real property that there is an outstanding balance due, and that the property is not free and clear. This will negatively affect any prospective seller’s ability to sell property and encourages sellers to pay their debts off first.
A judgment can be abstracted for up to ten years after it is entered. From the date the judgment is abstracted, the judgment creditor has another ten years to abstract the judgment and collect on it. At the end of those ten years, the creditor can abstract the judgment yet again.
Foreign Judgments and Domestication
If you have a judgment from another state, sometimes referred to as a foreign judgment, then a judgment domestication must be initiated with the county clerk’s office. Once domesticated in Texas, the judgment creditor can begin employing any and all methods of collection available for a Texas judgment, including but not limited to, abstracting the judgment as described above.
Obtaining a Writ of Execution
Another option of how to enforce a judgment is to obtain a “writ of execution.” Thirty days after judgment, you may obtain a such a writ to attempt to seize the debtor’s non-exempt property to satisfy your judgment. The court-issued writ of execution allows law enforcement in Texas to seize and then sell real and personal property belonging to the creditor in order to help satisfy the judgment.
Obtaining a Writ of Garnishment
In some situations, judgment creditors may choose to pursue what is known as a “writ of garnishment.” A writ of garnishment is particularly useful in situations where a debtor does not have enough real or personal property in the state to satisfy the judgment. Accounts subject to a writ of garnishment can include not only bank accounts, but also some investment accounts.
Petitioning for a Turnover Order
The rarest of collection methods is to ask a court to appoint a receiver, ideally a Texas judgment collection lawyer, under a “turnover order.” This receiver will use its court-appointed power to find and turnover assets to the creditor where such assets are unattainable through normal collection means. This is the most powerful option, but it is not commonly granted by the courts due to its power.
Contact the Law Office of Seth Kretzer for Help with Collecting on a Judgment in Texas
Learning how to collect on a judgment in Texas can be overwhelming without the proper attorney. Seth Kretzer can help to collect your rightful due.
Contact us today to learn how we can help you enforce a judgment!