A civil case ends in a decision by the court. This can be after a trial, inquest, arbitration, default, confession, stipulation or motion. The decision says how the Judge decided the case. The decision can’t be enforced until a judgment is entered.

Entry of a judgment happens when the clerk of the court signs and files the judgment. In some courts you have to ask the clerk to prepare and enter (record) a judgment in your favor. In other courts, you have to prepare the judgment. Contact the court where you got the decision to find out what to do next.

A judgment can order that money be paid, order something to be done, or dismiss a case. A judgment also includes an award of costs and disbursements. Costs are an amount of money determined by statute that the loser must pay the winner. Disbursements are out of pocket expenses, like filing fees. A judgment is good for 20 years, but if the plaintiff wants to enforce the judgment against land it is only good for 10 years unless the plaintiff renews it for another 10 years.


Default Judgments

If the defendant (or respondent) does not answer in time or make a motion, the plaintiff (or petitioner) can ask the court for a default judgment. A default judgment can give the plaintiff what he or she wants because the defendant did not tell his or her side of the story. The default judgment usually gives the plaintiff the right to collect the amount of money that was asked for in the complaint, plus interest and court costs. The judgment will appear on the defendant’s credit report, and it can be there for up to seven years if it is not paid. The judgment also gives the plaintiff the right to collect money from the defendant’s bank account or salary. See Collecting a Judgment.

To get a default judgment, the plaintiff may have to ask the court for an inquest. An inquest is a hearing to decide the amount of money due on a claim. See Inquests. The defendant can ask the court to vacate (cancel) the default judgment if he or she has a good reason for not answering or coming to court and a good reason why the plaintiff should not win the case. Read more at Vacating a Default Judgment.


After Entry of Judgment

When the judgment is entered, it can be enforced. First, the winner should serve a copy of the judgment with notice of entry on the loser. See sample notice of entry form. After service, the winner should file the Affidavit of Service with the court. See How Legal Papers Are Delivered during the case. The notice of entry tells the loser the date the judgment was entered and tells the loser that the time to appeal has started. The loser has 30 days to start the appeal process. See Starting an Appeal.

After the winner serves a copy of the judgment with notice of entry, the winner, the creditor, can start Collecting a Judgment against the loser, the debtor.


When the Judgment is Paid

When the debtor pays the judgment, the creditor must file a Satisfaction of Judgment form with the Clerk within 20 days.

It is filed in the Court that entered the judgment, but if a Transcript of Judgment was filed in the County Clerk’s office, it is filed there. The creditor must mail a copy of the Satisfaction within 10 days to the debtor and must send a copy to all other counties where a transcript of judgment was filed. If this is not done, the debtor can sue the creditor for $100.

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