Lawsuits between or among people or businesses are called “civil” lawsuits, even though the participants in such lawsuits are not always civil to each other. Each of the participants in civil lawsuits is called a “party.”
A civil lawsuit usually boils down to two requests initiated by the plaintiff. First, a plaintiff wants a court determination that the defendant made some mistake, violated some right or harmed the plaintiff in some way.
Second, the plaintiff wants a specific definition of what the defendant owes to the plaintiff to fix that harm. The defendant may be ordered to do some act, stop some act or pay some money. The actions, omissions or money identified by the judge is called the “relief.” The party owing relief, usually money, is called the debtor.
Once the court has decided whether a party is owed relief and what that relief is, the court usually closes the lawsuit. The formal, written order of the judge that indicates that relief is owed to a party, and what that relief is, is called a judgment.
The court does not usually involve itself in the actual collection of the money owed by a debtor to another party (usually called the creditor).
The creditor is responsible to actually get the money that is owed to the creditor from the debtor. This process is called “executing” on the judgment. A creditor can execute on a judgment (collect money) through five primary methods, and more than one method can be used at the same time.
First, the creditor can work out a voluntary immediate payment or payment plan with the debtor.
Second, the creditor can sometimes garnish the wages of the debtor. Garnishment involves the creditor instructing the debtor’s employer to withhold some of the debtor’s wages and pay that withheld money to the creditor. There are limits on how much of a debtor’s paycheck can be garnished. That limit is often 25 percent of the debtor’s net pay. Social Security and most retirement payments cannot be garnished.
Third, if the creditor knows where the debtor banks, the creditor may be able to instruct the bank to freeze or take money out of the debtor’s bank accounts to pay the creditor. However, notably, this incredibly powerful tool cannot be used to take Social Security payments or retirement payments.
Fourth, the creditor can file a judgment lien. A judgment lien is similar to a mortgage that affects every piece of real estate owned by the debtor. Judgment liens are specific by county. A judgment lien has to be filed in every county within which a creditor wants the lien to be active, including the county where the judgment was issued. Of course, the money is not paid until the creditor forecloses on the judgment lien.
Fifth, the creditor can attempt to attach the debtor’s personal possessions. This is seldom used because the value of most people’s personal possessions is usually so low that it does not justify the expense of undertaking the attachment process.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-523-5523. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.