So, you've successfully obtained an official judgment from a court of law in the State of Texas that entitles you to receive payment from another party to a lawsuit. Well, now what? How do you get the money you're owed? Why does your debtor refuse to pay you? What is this piece of paper even worth?
In this article, we will go over some of the steps in navigating the post-judgment collection processes you need to be aware of when you're trying to enforce a judgment in Texas.
Enforcing a Judgment
There are several ways to collect on a judgment in Texas. In the most straight-forward way, you can begin the collections process by filing an “abstract of judgment” in the county clerk’s office where you believe the judgment debtor owns non-exempt real property.
What is "non-exempt" real property?
"Non-exempt" property is the property a person owns that is not “exempt” as a matter of law.
There is a long list of what property counts as "exempt," and as such is immune to collection efforts, including the following:
- the “homestead,” which is a house and up to ten acres of land in an urban area, or a house and up to two hundred acres of land in a rural area; Texas Property Code § 41.002(a).
- wages, in general (while you can certainly garnish bank accounts in Texas, you cannot garnish wages directly);
- personal property that is not more than $100,000 (if married) or $50,000 (if single);
Typically, starting the post-judgment collections process requires hiring an attorney to begin drafting discovery requests and pulling the judgment debtor into a deposition, where the debtor is required, on penalty of perjury, to tell the truth about what assets they have and where they are located.
Filing the Abstract of Judgment
Once you have identified non-exempt property owned by the judgment debtor, you are ready 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.
A judgment can be effective for up to ten years after it is entered, and the judgment owner may renew the judgment for another ten years.
Obtaining a Writ of Execution
Another option of how to enforce a judgment is to obtain a “writ of execution.” Thirty days after the judgment is entered by the court, you may obtain 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 debtor in order to help satisfy the judgment.
Obtaining a Writ of Garnishment
In some situations, people holding a judicial order against a debtor may choose to pursue what is known as a “writ of garnishment.” A writ of garnishment is useful in situations where a debtor has financial accounts with balances that might be used to satisfy the judgment. Accounts subject to a writ of garnishment can include bank accounts and certain investment accounts.
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