Taking a person, company, or other organization to civil court is a means of settling disputes between the two parties. The results of a civil case can be either dismissal or judgment. A judgment is the civil court equivalent of a criminal court’s conviction. Having said that, civil judgments do not carry the same weight of enforcement associated with criminal convictions.
A judgment is essentially a court order recognizing the ‘winner’ and ‘loser’ in a civil case. It also lays out any remedy the court orders. In the case of monetary judgments, a judgment against the defendant would require a financial payment to the plaintiff. The amount would include any money due as a result of the original complaint plus the plaintiff’s legal expenses.
Here is a step-by-step explanation of how to obtain a civil judgment against another party:
Step #1: Summons and Complaint Filed
Every civil lawsuit begins with paperwork. The plaintiff or their attorney files a complaint and summons at the county courthouse. A small number of civil cases are filed with state and federal courts. Certain filing fees need to be paid at that time. It is then up to the court to process the paperwork. Provided everything is in order, the case is accepted and proceeds to the second step.
Step #2: The Defendant Is Served
State laws require that defendants have an opportunity to know they are being sued in advance of any potential litigation. This is necessary to give them time to prepare a defense. It is facilitated by serving the defendant a summons.
The summons informs the defendant of the lawsuit and, where applicable, the defendant’s need to appear in court. State laws vary in terms of how summonses are served. In some states, a summons can only be left with the person being served. Other states provide multiple options. In either case, the defendant only has a limited amount of time to respond.
Step #3: The Case Heads to Court
A copy of the summons is provided to both plaintiff and defendant. It includes a court date. Both parties are expected to appear in court on the appointed day. In the interim, they can work on building their respective cases. However, there are other options.
The two parties can get together, through their attorneys of course, in an attempt to work out a settlement. Reaching a settlement avoids costly and time-consuming litigation. The only thing with a settlement is that it needs to be approved by the court to make it official.
Step #4: A Judgment Is Rendered
Whether a case goes to trial or ends up being settled between the two parties, a judge either renders a judgment or dismisses the case altogether. Once rendered, a judgment becomes a legally enforceable court order. Still, the court doesn’t get involved with enforcement. That is left to the plaintiff, now referred to as the judgment creditor. The defendant becomes the judgment debtor.
After the Fact
Obtaining a judgment is usually the easiest part of the process. The hard part doesn’t begin until after the fact. It starts with collection, which is where companies like Judgment Collectors come in. Judgment Collectors is a national collection agency that specializes in judgments. They operate in 11 states, including Arizona and California.
Collecting an unpaid judgment can be difficult thanks to uncooperative debtors, a lack of financial resources, minimal assets owned by the debtor, and other factors. Judgment creditors who try to collect on their own fail more often than they succeed. Those that choose to hire a collection agency stand a better chance of getting at least some payment.