A judgment or judgement is a court’s decision which goes beyond “guilt” or “innocent” to include penalties like restitution or fines when a sentence of jail time is not appropriate.
When a creditor is owed money he may go to court to get a judgement against the person who has not paid the debt. If the court reviews his evidence and concurs that a debt is owed, the court may enter a judgement requiring the debt to be paid. The judgment will often stipulate a period of time during which its conditions must be met. If the condition is not met the defendant will have to appear before the judge to explain and may incur heavier penalties as a result.
Items like tax liens (for nonpayment of taxes) and judgements in favor of creditors appear on court records as well as on the credit report of the person who owes the money. These items will show up for a period of seven years from the time they are paid, and up to 15 years if they remain unpaid. Having such judgements on your credit report generally will harm your ability to qualify for loans and to qualify for a variety of things.
This sort of judgement is an interpretation by the court rather than an order to any party to do (or cease) an action. Declaratory judgements are requested to clarify legal standing.
When one party to a lawsuit does not show up to mount a defense or answer the court’s questions, a judge may enter a default judgement without hearing a complete trial. A default judgement generally is a ruling in favor of the complainant.
This type of decision may be rendered by the court without a trial. It is generally used to avoid a trial, when one side believes the facts are obvious and the outcome predictable. The request for summary judgment is a legal motion most often used by defendants, and takes place most frequently in federal civil trials.
Judges can be asked to make a decision on a portion of a case out of immediate need, resulting in an interlocutory or temporary judgment. At times other courts may seek this assistance, and for that reason these decisions have special appeals processes. Oftentimes these sorts of judgments are requested to stop an action that may complicate another court case, like the sale of assets that are disputed in a divorce.
When a legal case brings the two parties together to agree to a settlement, the court may enter a consent judgment, which is a legally-binding decision that is agreed upon by both sides. At times this is called a mediated judgment.
After a Judgment
In cases involving finances in which the defendant is ordered to repay a creditor, the court generally does not enforce the judgment, but relies on the creditor to execute the order through legal means. The options vary from one jurisdiction to another; a creditor may seek the services of a sheriff or other law enforcement official, may seek additional means to attach a lien to property owned by the debtor or may seek to have the debtor’s driver’s license suspended until the amount is paid. Creditors have a lengthy period of 10 years or more to pursue the claim.
To avoid the worst repercussions, options include reaching a mutually-agreeable payment schedule with the debtor, agreeing to a wage garnishment, or selling property to pay the debt. Interest may accrue on the amount, compounding the total while it goes unpaid. Filing for bankruptcy will also discharge the debt.
Resolving Judgment Records
Once a financial judgment has been satisfied or discharged, it will remain on the debtor’s credit report for a number of years depending on state law (generally, seven years). A petition can be filed to remove the judgment when the debt is discharged.