One of the benefits of the court system is being able to sue someone and obtain a money judgment. In civil lawsuits, one can get a judgment from the court for money owed, but that person may have difficulty collecting the money. In Special Civil Court, the case is assigned a “J Number” and the judgment remains in effect for 20 years after which time it can be renewed by filing a motion.
Someone who is owed money is known as the creditor. If you must pay the money, you are the debtor. Once there is a docketed judgment, a lien gets placed against all the real property owned by the debtor in New Jersey. A lien is a right to keep possession of property belonging to another until a debt owed is discharged. Fear not because there are various ways the court can help a creditor collect money he is owed.
An information subpoena is a way to get information regarding the debtor’s assets and income. This is a set of written questions that inquires about bank accounts, place of employment, and property ownership. Forms can be found online at njcourts.gov. There is one set of forms for people and another for businesses.
When the creditor receives the response, he can ask the court to allow him to collect money owed from certain assets or income belonging to the debtor. These assets would include wages, cars, bank accounts, and personal property. A creditor cannot collect from the debtor’s welfare benefits, social security, veterans’ benefits, or unemployment.
Court Order For Discovery
The creditor can file a motion for discovery which if granted will allow him to ask the debtor questions about his assets and income in person and under oath. Once the creditor knows the debtor has income, there are several ways to collect.
If the debtor has a job in New Jersey and makes more than $217.50 a week, the creditor can ask the court to deduct a set amount from the debtor’s paycheck. To request this, the creditor needs to send a Notice For Application for Wage Execution to the debtor and his employer via regular and certified mail. If the debtor objects, the court will schedule a hearing. If the judge rules for the creditor, the court issues an Order for Wage Execution. Once the creditor gets the signed order, he prepares a Writ of Wage Execution. This document gives the sheriff the authority to collect money owed to the creditor from the debtor’s wages. The creditor must forward the writ and the fee to the sheriff in the county where the debtor works. The sheriff will execute the wage garnishment.
A bank levy allows the sheriff to get control of the debtor’s bank accounts and obtain the funds from them. If the case has a “J number,” the creditor must send a Writ of Execution to the civil division manager in the county where the case was originally filed. If the case has a “DJ number,” the writ is issued upon request by the Clerk of Superior Court in Trenton. The creditor sends the writ to the sheriff where the bank is located and he freezes the account. The creditor then files a Motion to Turn Over Funds with the court and serves a copy on the sheriff, the bank, and the debtor. The judge signs the Order if there is no objection. The creditor sends it to the sheriff and other parties. The sheriff withdraws the funds from the account.
Execution On Other Assets
The creditor applies for an Order to allow the sheriff to enter the debtor’s property intending to seize such property as vehicles or equipment to be sold at a public sale. If the creditor asks the sheriff to take the debtor’s vehicle, he must be able to prove that the vehicle is registered in the debtor’s name, must get a certified copy of the title, and perform a certified lien search with the NJ Department of Motor Vehicles. The debtor gets to keep $1,000 worth of personal property. If the debtor does not have $1,000 worth of personal property, then this method cannot be used.
Execution Against Real Estate
This option is more difficult and the creditor could likely benefit from the assistance of an attorney. The creditor would motion the court to allow it to sell the debtor’s real estate. The creditor should hire an attorney to do a title search. If the debtor owns the property and there are no hindrances to title, the sheriff can publish notice of a public sale in the newspaper. The sheriff sells the property for a considerable fee.
Article 4 of the U.S. Constitution ensures that a judgment awarded in the court of one state is entitled to full faith and credit in the courts of another state. A judgment from another state can be enforced in New Jersey by docketing it with the Clerk of the Superior Court in Trenton. It will then be a lien on any real estate owned by the debtor in New Jersey and other collection efforts must be made through the sheriff in the county where the debtor owns assets. If the debtor moves out of state, the creditor can retain an attorney in that state to enforce the judgment.
If the case is settled before trial, the plaintiff must file a stipulation of dismissal with the Special Civil Part Court. If a judgment is paid, the plaintiff is responsible for filing a warrant of satisfaction with the Special Civil Part. The warrant of satisfaction is a document that satisfies the judgment of record. Any lien will be cancelled and the case is closed.
There is no guarantee a debtor will pay his debt or have assets to sell to satisfy the judgment. As the saying goes – you can’t get blood from a stone. However, creditors can rest easier knowing that the courts have a variety of ways to make the debtor pay his debt by going after his income and assets.
By: Christopher Pollard Esq.