After what may have been several years spent pursuing a civil litigation claim, a judge or jury returns a verdict in your favor. You not only feel vindicated, you are also elated at the prospect of being financially compensated for your efforts. Probably the biggest question you have is, “When do I get paid?” Depending on the defendant’s financial situation, that can be anywhere from weeks to months to years—to never.
The first step in collecting your judgment is to ascertain the judgment debtor’s assets, which is done through a process known as post-judgment discovery. Under Rule 69(c) of the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure, you can use the same discovery tools that were available to you during the litigation process to uncover the judgment debtor’s assets, including:
- Oral depositions
- Requests for production of documents
- Requests for admission
Your attorney can also help you conduct an asset search by accessing the judgment creditor’s credit reports, UCC filings, property settlement agreements, county assessor and county recorder office records, and more.
Once you have the asset information, Arizona law gives you several opportunities to collect if the debtor is unwilling or unable to pay the judgment, including:
Wage garnishment. Your attorney can help you file a writ of garnishment with the court, which is served on the debtor’s employer. The maximum that can be garnished is 25% of the debtor’s net pay.
Non-wage garnishment. To collect a debt in Arizona, you can garnish monies paid to a debtor for rent, contracts or other periodic payments as well as garnish escrow accounts, safe deposit box contents, and stocks. You will need to file a writ of garnishment with the court to gain access to these assets.
Bank account levy. You can garnish funds held in a bank account by following the same procedures in obtaining a writ of garnishment. Some bank account funds are exempt, including the first $300 in the account and Social Security payments.
Real property lien. Arizona law allows creditors to place a lien on a debtor’s real property except homestead property (personal home) for a period of five years. If the debtor tries to sell the property or refinance a mortgage loan, your judgment must be paid off before the debtor can proceed with the sale or refinancing.
Sale of personal property. A writ of execution is used to seize and sell a debtor’s personal property to satisfy a judgment.
Arizona judgments are now enforceable for at least 10 years (formerly 5 years) from the date the judgment is entered by the Clerk of the Court. Creditors are required to renew a judgment after 10 years and must file the renewal affidavit at least 90 days prior to the date of expiration. Failure to do so will result in an invalid judgment that can no longer be pursued for collection.
Of course, it is also possible to never recover a dime on a judgment—e.g., because the debtor has no assets or the debtor has hidden their assets and the creditor makes an economic decision that judgment enforcement efforts are too costly.
Williams Mestaz, L.L.P., provides strong legal advocacy for companies at all stages involved in general business lawsuits. We are known for using our skills, experience, and cutting-edge technology to get great results, whether after trial or through a favorable settlement. Call us today at (602) 256-9400 and schedule an appointment to meet with us about your case.