As many creditors know, the state of Texas provides robust protection for debtors and navigating the post-judgment collection process can be an overwhelming experience for even the savviest professional. Attempting debt collection during an economic slowdown can further compound a creditor's frustration as they face an increase in slow-pay and no-pay debtors. After countless demand letters go ignored, creditors often turn to litigation in hopes of getting paid. However, a creditor's celebration after obtaining a judgment is often short lived, as they soon realize the judgment is only a piece of paper and there is more work to be done. Many of the collection fantasies soon fade away upon reviewing the long list of properties exempt from collection in the state of Texas. For example, even if the judgment debtor resides in a million-dollar home, the entire homestead equity is exempt from execution if the property qualifies as such. This news can be discouraging; however, there are still avenues for collection and the vigorous attorneys here at The Cromeens Law Firm are experienced in several collection strategies. This article serves as an overview of the various post-judgment collection procedures available in Texas.
Abstracting the Final Judgment
The first step after obtaining a judgment is to record an abstract of judgment in the real property records of every county where the judgment debtor may own real property. The abstract of judgment, also known as a judgment lien, places a lien on any non-exempt real property that the judgment debtor owns in each county where the abstract of judgment is recorded. Tex. Prop. Code Sections 52.002-52.003. The abstract judgment persists for ten (10) years but can be refiled prior to expiration. The purpose of the abstract judgment is to put the public on notice that the judgment attaches to the judgment debtor's non-exempt real property. This is especially useful once a title company runs a search to determine if proceeds from the sale of real property should be used to satisfy the judgment. Thus, if the judgment debtor wishes to sell property, he or she will likely have to satisfy the judgment as most title companies will require that all liens are released.
Writ of Execution
A more proactive approach to post-judgment collection is the writ of execution. Thirty days after obtaining a final judgment, a creditor can request a writ of execution from the clerk of the court. Once the clerk issues the writ of execution, the writ permits a Texas constable to seize the judgment debtor's non-exempt property and sell it at action. The proceeds of the sale are used to satisfy the judgment; however, there are fees associated with this process that must be considered prior to utilizing this option. It is imperative that you perform a thorough asset search prior to requesting the writ of execution so that you can direct the constable to specific property. The attorneys here at The Cromeens Law Firm have many asset search tools available and can assist you with this process. Ultimately, even if the judgment debtor does not have enough non-exempt assets to satisfy the judgment, the mere presence of a constable at the door is often sufficient motivation to make payment arrangements.
Writ of Garnishment
A judgment creditor should consider a writ of garnishment if a writ of execution is not practical due to the judgment debtor's lack of sufficient non-exempt property in Texas. A writ of garnishment allows the judgment creditor to garnish property belonging to the judgment debtor currently in the possession of third party banks. This is a very attractive option for the judgment creditor because the process is straight forward and banks are typically very cooperative. Therefore, if you know of the third party institution that possesses the judgment debtor's assets, this mechanism may be a worthwhile route for you.
When a judgment debtor's non-exempt property is out of reach of standard legal processes, a judgment creditor should consider obtaining at turnover order. Section 31.002 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code entitles a judgment creditor to aid from a court to reach property to satisfy a judgment. This is done via a court order requiring the judgment debtor to turn over non-exempt property or appointing a receiver to take possession of the property. Because non-compliance with a court order exposes the judgment debtor to contempt proceedings, the turnover order is a powerful post-judgment collection tool.
Post-judgment discovery is another tool commonly used in the post-judgment collection process, especially if the asset search yields unsatisfactory results. This process is used to obtain information directly from the judgment debtor about his or her non-exempt assets. Similar to turnover orders, this method exposes the judgment debtor to the same types of penalties and sanctions to compel compliance. Typically, attorneys' fees are not recoverable for post-judgment collection efforts; however, if you have to file a motion to compel to obtain responses to post-judgment discovery, the judgment debtor can be ordered to pay the fees incurred for the motion to compel process.
Enforcing Out of State Judgments
Judgments obtained in other states are considered "foreign judgments" and are governed by Chapter 35 of the Civil Practice & Remedies Code (Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act or "UEFJA"). In order to enforce such a judgment in the state of Texas, the judgment must be domesticated by filing the proper documents with the clerk of court. Once properly domesticated, the judgment is treated as a Texas judgment and the judgment creditor can proceed with attempting to collect any non-exempt property located in Texas.
In Texas, the post-judgment collection process can be challenging without proper guidance. However, the attorneys here at The Cromeens Law Firm have successfully collected judgments for many clients. We have also successfully defended and protected clients from overly aggressive judgment creditors as we handle post-judgment collection matters for both creditors and debtors. We invite you to seek the advice of one of our experienced attorneys if you are seeking to collect a judgment or need to protect yourself from excessive collection attempts.
With a concentration in business, construction and real estate law, The Cromeens Law Firm, PLLC, is committed to providing results driven, cost-effective and personalized representation to each one our clients. Contact us today to learn more about our in-depth experience handling Post-Judgment Collections, and how we can assist you.
This article is intended as a general educational overview of the subject matter and is not intended to be a comprehensive survey of recent jurisprudence, nor a substitute for legal advice for a specific legal matter. If you have a legal issue, please consult an attorney.