|All information below is based on general principles of MISSOURI law, and may not apply in all circumstances...even in Missouri! If you have a judgment, you should discuss specific questions with the attorney who obtained the judgment, other trusted legal advisors or a local lawyer who limits his or her practice to collecting debts and judgments
A Few Questions Clients ask Lawyers About Collecting a Judgment:
Is there a difference between a "debt" and a "judgment"?
Yes. You cannot garnishee someone's wages, or attach a person's house or car, just because he owes you money. But if you sue him, and win, that same debt becomes a "judgment" and you can then garnishee wages and bank accounts, and file liens or even "attach" (take) his property, under some circumstances.
Doesn't my trial lawyer HAVE to collect the judgment for me? Isn't that part of representing me?
Not necessarily. In fact, your trial lawyer may have a lien on your judgment for unpaid fees, and may have his or her own interest in collecting it. But collecting a judgment is a separate activity from
representing you in a lawsuit. You might prefer to hire a lawyer who emphasizes debt collection in her practice.
Can I collect my judgment without a lawyer?
Of course, you can try. But the other side might not pay it, even if he wanted to, unless a lawyer was involved. He would need to have a release signed by you, and filed with the Court, to prove that it has been paid. You should not sign a release, until the money is actually in your hands. The logistics often require a lawyer.
Yes. There are special rules for different kinds of judgments -- and each should be evaluated separately. When the other side is ordered to make
periodic payments to you, there are special considerations. If you have money damages, there may be different rules and deadlines.
Also, if you are owed CHILD SUPPORT -- the State has an office that will help you collect it, and they can do it more efficiently than many private lawyers.
QUESTIONS A LAWYER MIGHT ASK the "Client to be":
Is Bankruptcy a viable option for your debtor?
(Some people just cannot consider it, for various reasons.)
Is the amount of the judgment worth the time, money and effort you will spend collecting?
(Some approaches are more time consuming and expensive than others. Sometimes, if the debtor won't disappear, you can just 'let things sit' -- as long as your time limits don't expire.)
Do you know enough about the debtor to keep track of him and his assets through the years it may take to wait for full collection?
(You must NOT "stalk" him, or invade his privacy -- but it may be good to let him know you are watching and waiting. Your goal is to make it easier and more comfortable for the debtor to pay you than not to pay. But federal and state law place restrictions on certain activities regarding collections.)
Is there some time in the future that you would be more likely to collect this judgment with less effort?
(For example, if your debtor
forgets he owes the money, he may get "sloppy" about hiding his assets.)
CHECKLIST -- What you will need to know to collect your judgment --
Date of your Judgment: _____________ Amount of your Judgment: $__________________
Name of your case: ________________________
Court and Case Number Have you paid your trial lawyer? (yes/no)
(If not, that lawyer will have a lien on your judgment, under Missouri law.)
Dates partial payments have been made, or collected, and amounts paid:
Debtor's Social Security Number: ______________________
Debtor's employer (name of business, and address):
Debtor's educational level, special skills:
Possibility of inheritance from someone?
Does anyone owe money to the debtor?
Does anyone else have property belonging to the debtor in their possession (including his attorney)?
Is he the beneficiary of a trust?
Debtor's marital status, and number and ages of children?
Is your debtor the"head of household" in his family?
Does he have other debts which take priority?
Make a list of property you KNOW that your debtor has, for example, home, interest in a business, pensions, retirement funds, car, stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit, notes which have not matured, IRS refunds....
For each property you KNOW that your debtor has, write down the dates liens have been placed on any specific property.
Has your debtor declared bankruptcy? If so, find out, and write down the date(s) and the court case number.
CONTACT A LAWYER IMMEDIATELY IF:
||Your debtor dies|
||Someone in the debtor's family dies (including a spouse, child, parent or sibling)|
||The debtor gets a windfall (like a new job, wins the lottery, etc.)|
||The debtor or his spouse files for bankruptcy or divorce|
|You are within three years of the time one of your deadlines is to expire|
JUST BECAUSE YOUR DEBTOR WON'T PAY DOES NOT MEAN YOU CANNOT ULTIMATELY COLLECT YOUR JUDGMENT. BUT YOU CAN LOSE YOUR JUDGMENT IF YOU DO NOT WATCH YOUR TIME LIMITS!!!
- Everything starts with the date of the Decree or Judgment from the trial Court, or jury. Enter the date of your judgment on your work sheet, or records.
- The Judgment, itself, is presumed to have been paid if it has not been collected in TEN YEARS. Before the ten years is up, you can have a
Court "revive" your judgment. You should see a lawyer about reviving your judgment at least two or three years before your deadline!
- LIENS. The person who owes you money may refuse to pay, and not have any bank accounts, or other assets which you can actually turn into money to pay the debt. You can file a
"lien" on, for instance, real property, unmatured certificate of deposits -- his attorney's escrow account, or other property in which the debtor has an interest. A lien only lasts three years from the date of your judgment, or the date you give notice to the person holding the property, and must also be "revived" before the three years is up (see Supreme Court Rule 74.08 and RSMo 517.151).
- If you"revive" your judgment before your lien expires (every three years), your judgment will take precedence (come before) any other judgments or liens filed after your lien. If you let your lien expire, you can still file another lien, but it will have a lower priority than other liens filed on that same property.
- The statute having to do with Judgment liens on real estate has recently been amended. Judgment liens on real estate are valid for ten years now, as opposed to three, at least for judgments rendered or revived after August 28, 1998.
- REVIVAL OF JUDGMENTS. A lawyer may file for you a "Motion for revival of a Judgment." When that motion is filed, a Judge signs an "Order to Show Cause" directed to the person who owes you money. If that person cannot be found, the notice can be published in the newspaper. The person who owes you money has a specific date by which he or she must appear in Court, and show the Judge why the Judgment should not be "revived." If he cannot show a good reason why it should not be revived, then the Judge signs an Order, reviving the Judgment as of that day...
...and your ten years begins again!!!!!