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Useless judgments

You may win a court judgment
And never see your money

Your so-called lover defrauded you. You’re angry and you want your money back. Or, if you were unlucky enough to marry the bum, you want a divorce—and your money back.

If you’re going to initiate civil litigation, the first thing you should know is that it’s going to cost you money. You have to retain an attorney and pay his or her legal fees. Proving fraud is difficult and time-consuming, so the fees will probably be high.

After the lawsuit has dragged on for a year or more, you may indeed win. The court may determine that your beau defrauded you, and award you a monetary judgment. Then the real battle begins—trying to collect your money.

No help from the court

The court does absolutely nothing to help you collect the money it awards you. In fact, the court doesn’t order the defendant to pay you, and no one is required to pay a court judgment voluntarily. Once the judge who heard your lawsuit enters the court judgment, he or she considers the case to be closed.

Now you’re a “judgment creditor” trying to collect from a “judgment debtor.” To get your money, you have to take the initiative. You have to find the debtor, find his assets, make sure judgments and liens are recorded in the appropriate jurisdictions and provide instructions to the sheriff.

It’s an entirely different area of law. You can try to do it yourself, but it’s not easy. You may be better off hiring another attorney—someone who specializes in collections.

Fraud and bankruptcy

Generally, an individual who files for bankruptcy can have a court judgment discharged, meaning the judgment does not have to be paid. Debts due to fraud, however, are an exception. The United States Bankruptcy Code prohibits a debtor from discharging liabilities incurred through “false pretense, false representation or actual fraud.”

Still, this is not an automatic exception. If your beau tries to declare bankruptcy to avoid paying your court judgment, you, as the creditor, must ask the federal bankruptcy court to except your court judgment from discharge in the bankruptcy. You must take action to prevent your claim from being discharged, or the bum will get away with not paying.

Making sure your original judgment order includes language about the findings of fraud may help. But if the bankruptcy court doesn’t accept the previous court’s finding of fraud, you may have to prove it all over again.

Is pursuing your court judgment worth it?

Before you file a lawsuit, ask yourself: Is it worth it? If you know where the bum is, and you think he has assets, the answer may be yes. However, be prepared for a long and frustrating legal process. And once you win a court judgment, be prepared for a long and frustrating collection process.

For more information about collecting your court judgment, visit Nolo.com or FindLaw.com.

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