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Enforcing Georgia Judgments

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This is my opinion and a summary of what I have learned and observed. If you need legal advice, contact a lawyer because I am not a lawyer.

Because this is a summary of how to enforce a judgment in Georgia, let me start with a link for more information:

http://www.lexis-nexis.com/hottopics/gacode (See Title 18, it covers judgment enforcement laws.)

A judgment is a final order of the court, signed by a judge or a commissioner that specifies a cash amount owed. The courts have no way to help you enforce your judgment. You must do it yourself, or get help to enforce your judgment.

Currently, the interest rate in Georgia is the Prime Rate plus three percent, compounded annually. Anyone who enforces a judgment needs to keep track of the interest accrued, credits (when the debtor pays), and debits (what you spent to enforce the judgment). Payments must be applied to interest first, then the principal owed.

Interest stops accruing on any money that partially satisfies the judgment. Georgia judgments may be enforced for seven years, after which they go "dormant". After they go dormant, you must revive them within three years (ten years total). A judgment may be renewed for another seven years, but only after it is seven years old. Then the judgment can be renewed indefinitely, if consistently renewed.

You can enforce (collect) Judgments can be enforced in many ways. One of the old-school ways is to record a Fieri Facias (FiFA). A FiFa is the same thing as a Writ Of Execution in other states. The FiFa can be recorded with the County Recorder in a county where the debtor owns or will own real estate. If the debtor sells or refinances (and the property is not underwater) you may get paid.

You may be able to record a FiFA and get paid if a debtor is a plaintiff in a different lawsuit, or a beneficiary in a dead person's estate proceeding. Every creditor who wins a Judgment usually gets a FiFA from the awarding court. The FiFA must be recorded in each county where the debtor has assets.

If the debtor earns wages (unfortunately less likely these days) you may be able to garnish up to 25% of their income. The debtor may try to claim an exemption. Also, if there is already another garnishment in progress, yours has to wait until the previous debts are paid. Finally, there are many exemptions the debtor can claim, as defined in the Georgia Code of Civil Procedures (CCPs).

If the debtor has savings or checking bank accounts, or a safe deposit box, you may be able to garnish them to get paid. Other non-standard income streams can be attached with an assignment order.

If the debtor is a business, even a home business, you can record a Uniform Common Code (UCC) lien with the Secretary of State. If the business wants a loan, the lender may require them to pay off all UCC liens and then you could get paid. The UCC lien can make you a secured creditor if the debtor files for bankruptcy. Even that may not get you paid. Generally when a debtor goes bankrupt, you never get paid.

Post-judgment discovery can obtain information on the judgment debtor's assets or employment status. This usually requires you to have a process server personally serve the Court order directly on the debtor. This requires the debtor to appear in Court on a certain date. You must appear also, to conduct the examination. The debtor must answer "under oath" to the all questions you ask about their assets.

If the defendant does not appear, some Courts may issue an arrest warrant (bench warrant) after other legal procedures are exhausted. Note that you must pay for a bench warrant. In many counties, the Sheriff will not pick up the debtor, as they are busy with other important matters such as trying to rid their county of drugs and criminals.

It's not easy to recover costs incurred when enforcing a judgment in Georgia. Costs are payments to courts, process servers, and Sheriffs. Meals, Postage, and parking meters, are not allowed costs.

At one time Georgia post-judgment recovery laws were clear, but now they are vague. Unlike other States, in Georgia you must prepare a Bill Of Cost, a Motion and an Order, and have it served on the debtor with certified mail, pay the court $10, and claim costs within 30 days of incurring them.

If your case is moved to a different Magistrate court, you have to personally serve the debtor and pay the court the same fees as if you were starting a new lawsuit. In most cases, it's just not worth the hassle and costs of getting a Georgia court to approve your enforcement-related costs.

If you enforce your judgment, you must file a notarized "Acknowledgement Of Satisfaction of Judgment" with the Court. The law ignores the real world possibility of bounced checks and bankruptcy, and requires you to file the Satisfaction within 30 days.

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Mark D. Shapiro -  http://www.JudgmentBuy.com

 

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