How to Enforce a Default Judgment

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A default judgment is a binding ruling issued by a court based on the failure of a party to make an appropriate response to a lawsuit. Typically, when a defendant fails to file a response to a lawsuit, a judge will enter a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff, awarding the plaintiff any relief requested in the original petition. Receiving a default judgment, however, does not automatically entitle you to payment of damages. To actually receive the relief ordered in a default judgment, you must obtain and file a writ of execution.

Step 1

Obtain a judgment lien. A judgment lien is a security interest granted in property owned by a debtor as a result of a judgment against the debtor. Obtaining a judgment lien is an important step because a judgment debtor may not have sufficient assets to cover all of his debts. While Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code, or UCC, resolves the question of priority in assets between judgment creditors and regular creditors, recording your interest in a defendant’s goods as a judgment creditor will increase the likelihood of collecting on a default judgment. While the method varies by state, you can obtain a judgment lien by bringing a copy of your judgment to either the Secretary of State or UCC recording office.

Step 2

Locate suitable property owned by the defendant and determine if other parties have a security interest in this property. You can determine what property a defendant owns by checking with the county and state UCC recording offices where the defendant lives and owns property and performing a records search. Most states permit a defendant to claim a homestead exception, which allows a defendant to exempt one dwelling, one automobile and some personal property from a creditor lien. Additionally, it may not be wise to direct a sheriff to seize property in which another party has a strong security interest in.

Step 3

Determine if the defendant’s property can be seized by a sheriff. A sheriff cannot seize and liquidate a person’s land to pay creditors, but may seize personal property owned by a defendant. If the only valuable assets owned by a defendant are land, you may need to maintain your judgment lien and wait for the defendant to sell or otherwise transfer the land. If a defendant owns other assets that can cover your judgment lien, you may direct a sheriff to seize and liquidate them.

Step 4

Obtain a writ of execution from the court issuing the default judgment and file the writ of execution with the sheriff of the county where the defendant has obtainable assets. Bring a copy of the court order granting a default judgment to the clerk of court that issued the decision. It will issue you a writ of execution, which you must then file with the sheriff. Most sheriff’s offices will require you to pay a refundable deposit to cover the cost of holding a sheriff’s sale.

Step 5

Receive proceeds from the sheriff’s sale. Proceeds gained from a sheriff’s sale are first used to cover the cost of conducting the sheriff’s sale, with the remainder of the proceeds going to pay creditors according to their Article 9 priority.

Step 6

Renew any “patient” judgment liens. Under Article 9 of the UCC, a judgment lien may only last for 10 years, but may be renewed for another 10 years six months before the lien is set to expire. If you have placed a judgment lien against a defendant’s property and are waiting for the defendant to sell the property, failing to timely renew a judgment lien results in your claim losing priority, which may prevent you from collecting when the property is sold.


About the Author

Salvatore Jackson began writing professionally in 2010. He has experience with international travel, computers, sports and law. Jackson is a licensed attorney with experience in legal research. He received his Juris Doctor from Tulane University in 2010.

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  • dollar sign neon image by Christopher Martin from