Judgment enforcement actions have two major timing issues: they need to be handled immediately and may take a long time to complete. Before you decide to represent a judgment creditor in an enforcement case, consider whether you really have the time.
The first consideration is whether you have enough time to devote immediately to enforcement (e.g., to find assets first and properly complete the levy or other enforcement procedure).
For example, if a debtor’s business is in financial difficulty and the debtor hasn’t been able to pay his or her bills for several months, you’ll have to move quickly (i.e., start looking for assets today) to levy before debtor’s position gets worse.
And if the judgment is approaching the 10-year mark since entry (or since last renewal), be prepared to either renew the judgment before its expiration or defend yourself against a malpractice action.
All too often creditor clients look for representation just days before judgment expiration. If after consulting with a prospective client you decide not to represent him or her, protect yourself from liability by sending a timely written rejection explicitly detailing the renewal problem (or other circumstance that requires fast action) and providing multiple referral sources.
Moving quickly has its benefits: the first creditor to make a claim against a debtor is often the most successful and the creditor who creates a lien or levies first has priority.
Once you determine that you currently have time to act, then consider how long enforcement will take and whether you will have the time for that. Certain enforcement methods can take a great deal of time. For example, a levy on real property that contains a dwelling requires you to set and attend at least one noticed hearing and prepare several documents all in a short period of time (e.g., 20-45 days). Overall, a real property levy will take approximately 5-9 months before sale is completed.
If you obtain a wage garnishment, you’ll have to monitor it for months or years, and if the debtor changes jobs, you’ll have to start over again and obtain another wage garnishment.
If you’ve considered the time involved and decide to represent a judgment creditor who wants to collect money awarded in a California state court judgment or a federal judgment in California, get step-by-step guidance in CEB’s Enforcing Civil Money Judgments (Action Guide). And get an understanding of the traps, tricks, and regulations of collections practice in CEB’s Debt Collection Practice in California.
Other CEBblog™ post you may find useful:
- Enforcing a Judgment That’s Expired? You May Still Be in Luck
- Dead Man Balking: Writ of Execution Doesn’t Work After Debtor’s Death
- How to Garnish Wages in California
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