Various methods are available to collect judgment debts. Every collector is aware of the option of garnishment of wages and bank accounts. Most collectors are aware of sheriff's levies on personal property. However fewer collectors are aware of perfecting judgment liens against real estate owned by the debtor.
When judgment is entered in the General District Court, unless appealed, it becomes final in ten days; Circuit Court judgments become final after thirty days. Once final, judgment creditors can request abstracts of the judgment from that Court (free for some counties and cities, $.50 cents per abstract in others). These abstracts can then be recorded (for $10.00 per abstract) in the Circuit Court in any county or city in which the debtor may own real estate. District Court judgments are good for ten years; Circuit Court judgments are good for twenty years. Each, upon motion to the court, can be renewed for an identical period of time. Since docketed judgment liens are good for twenty years, this docketing can provide a long-term hope for recovery. Once such a lien attaches, creditors may be able to bring suit to enforce the lien, or simply wait until such lien is paid at the sale of the property.
These liens can sometimes survive bankruptcy as well. If the lien is docketed for at least ninety days prior to a filing for bankruptcy, the lien should survive, and may eventually be paid. Note, however, that the real estate must be owned by the identical parties against whom judgment was taken. Thus, judgment against one of the tenants by the entirety does not entitle the creditor to the benefits described.
What can be done when there is no information about your debtor from which to devise a post judgment collection plan? Virginia law provides for a good start -- Debtor's Interrogatories. For the price of a summons (usually $41.00) an attorney can Summons the debtor to appear before a Commissioner in Chancery (a lawyer appointed by the court) to answer questions about income, assets and the debtor's general ability to pay. This Summons is enforceable by a Capias (arrest warrant) which is issued through the court. This statute does allow debtors to request that the interrogatories be held at a court most convenient for the debtor. Therefore, if the debtor moves far from the creditor's area, it may not be cost effective to pursue the interrogatories.
The law firm of Lafayette, Ayers & Whitlock, PLC aggressively pursues all collection cases from initial demand through final payment. We account to our clients with monthly statements and reports, and immediate responses to client questions. We are willing to assist in client collection matters piecemeal as well. If our assistance is needed just to proceed with interrogatories, an hourly fee can be arranged. Please call me at 545-6250 for a free initial consultation.