A Judgment Carries the Weight of California Law
When a judgment is issued in a California court of law, this legal determination spells out who won the case and the damages the losing party, called the judgment debtor, must pay. The concept is officially defined in Section 577 of the Code of Civil Law, and all those involved in the case must abide by the judgment.
A Judgment Gives the Creditor Legal Tools To Collect the Amount Owed
While the court issues the judgment, it does not actually collect the payment or force the debtor to comply with the terms. Instead, California law codes provide several avenues the creditor can use to collect what is due, depending on the circumstances.
It is important to understand the rules governing these measures may vary according to the type of debt owed. For example, judgments involving delinquent child support or state or federal back taxes allow collecting a higher percentage of net wages.
Wage Garnishments or Attachments
Understandably, a creditor will try the easiest route first to collect a judgment. If you have a job and receive a regular paycheck, the creditor can fill out some forms and issue them to your employer to have an amount from your wages taken out each pay period and remitted toward what you owe.
This wage garnishment is subject to definite restrictions. The total usually withheld under California law is 25% of your net earnings, with a higher amount deducted for child support payments. You can challenge this amount by filing a claim for exemption form with an accompanying financial statement. It is sometimes possible to obtain a reduction in the wages withheld; however, if you use any income for luxuries rather than necessities or are in arrears for support payments of a child, spouse or partner, you probably will not receive an exemption.
The judgment creditor can file a lien on your property if you own a home, rental property, vacant land, or other items with a title, such as a car or a boat. This means you will not be able to sell it without first paying the amount owed to the creditor. Unfortunately, the creditor can also decide to file a writ of execution and notice of levy to force the sale of the property at a public auction to pay the judgment.
Since this is a more complicated and costly process than wage garnishments, the creditor usually investigates your amount of equity in the property and any possible exemptions before pursuing its sale.
Seizure or Turnover Orders
In order for a creditor to use either of these procedures to obtain valuable personal property from you, a hearing must be held before a judge. In either case, the sheriff becomes involved with retrieving and selling the items. A seizure order usually involves obtaining large, unwieldy items such as heavy woodworking machines or hobby equipment. A turnover order requires you to release a smaller item of value to the sheriff, such as expensive jewelry or rare art.
A judgment creditor may file a form to officially request a debtor’s examination hearing to determine the full extent of all your assets. The creditor must serve you with a copy, and you are required to attend the hearing to answer the creditor’s questions about items of value that you own.
California Provides Exemptions to Judgment Collections
Not everything you own is fair game for the judgment creditor to snap up to pay the judgment against you. For example, a home you own and occupy is exempt in California as long as your equity in the property does not exceed a specified amount adjusted annually for inflation. Although wages are subject to garnishment, Social Security and public assistance benefits are generally exempt. Even some public and private pensions may be exempt except where the judgment involves an overdue child or spousal support.
If a Creditor Has a Judgment Against You, Seek Legal Help
When your financial difficulties result in a creditor obtaining a judgment, you need professional assistance to help protect you and your family to the fullest extent possible. At the Law Offices of Brent D. George, we provide knowledge and experience with California laws regarding judgments, wage garnishments, liens on properties and all available exemptions. Contact our offices today to schedule a free consultation and take the burden off your shoulders.