Every involuntary judgment collection attempt requires an official civil Sheriff or Marshall, and fees must be paid to them. In this article, Sheriff means either the Sheriff or the Marshall. In some jurisdictions, in the addition to the Sherriff, a registered process servers must also be hired.
This article is my opinion, and not legal advice. I am a judgment broker, and am not a lawyer. If you ever need any legal advice or a strategy to use, please contact a lawyer.
To collect a judgment, you must have a copy of your judgment, because only that proves who is the defendant and how much the judgment debtor owes you. You will also need a current and local writ of execution from the court. (Or the equivalent, for example in some states, a department of state issues a statewide judgment lien certificate.) More forms, fees, and instructions are also required, to hire a Sheriff to attempt to levy your judgment debtor’s available assets.
When your judgment debtor will not pay you, the good news is the civil Sheriff can attempt to levy and sell their available assets to help satisfy your judgment. The bad news is you must pay all costs, even if the levy fails for any reason. (Sometimes the Sheriff will refund the deposit if a debtor property auction sale does not proceed.)
When your judgment debtor’s asset targets are bank accounts or wages, no Sheriff auctions are required. If your judgment debtor’s property is some other kind of asset, you can pay the Sheriff to seize, advertise, and sell at auction, your judgment debtor’s property.
Not every levy attempt succeeds. On bank levies, there may be little or no money in the judgment debtor’s bank account, or their account might have recently been closed. On wage levies, there could be another levy ahead of yours, or that outranks yours. On all levies, many things can prevent you from being paid, including:
1) The judgment debtor gets or claims an exemption. Only individuals can claim exemptions, because corporations, LLCs, and partnerships usually cannot claim them. People can claim exemption limits for their homes, and depending on which state; perhaps also their wages, bank accounts, personal property, vehicles, and tools used in their business.
2) There could be prior liens on their assets. If someone else recorded their lien before you did, they will probably get paid first, because the first to properly record a lien usually gets paid first. If the money runs out before getting to your judgment lien, you will probably not get paid.
3) The judgment debtor could file for bankruptcy protection, which always stops all collection activities including Sheriff auctions; at least until the judgment owner pays for and wins their adversarial proceeding, to get an order from the bankruptcy court declaring that their judgment (usually for the reason of fraud) is non-dischargeable.
4) The judgment debtor moves or hides their assets. You must specify where your debtor’s assets are, because the Sheriff will not locate your judgment debtor’s assets for you. Without a separate court order, a Sheriff will not force a judgment debtor to disclose or release their hidden property, or hire a locksmith to open their locked property.
5) The debtor’s asset belongs to someone else, perhaps it is leased, or owned by some relative of theirs. Someone might file a third-party claim of ownership.
Even if the Sheriff levy and auction proceeding succeeds, you will only get paid if there is enough money left after all the other debts and costs get paid. Usually, Sheriff sales require bidders to pay with cash, which limits who can pay and how much they can spend. Sheriffs do not advertise upcoming auction sales as much as you would like, and the Sheriff, prior lien holders, and the storage and auction fees are deducted before you have a chance to be paid.