How do I collect a divorce judgment?
September 23, 2009 11:46 AM   Subscribe

I would love any input you might have, even though you are not my lawyer. Four years ago my husband moved out and left me with his unpaid medical bills. Since the debt was incurred while we were married and living together, we were legally considered co-debtors. He told me had worked out a payment plan and I didn't find out otherwise until we were separated and subsequently sued. I was able to settle this debt, but my savings was wiped out (while we were married we had a his, hers, and ours system of money management). As part of the divorce settlement I was granted a judgment totaling $5000 + 10% annual simple interest. He signed off on this and didn't contest the amount.

Fast forward to today and he hasn't made any attempts to pay off the judgment. But then again, I haven't made any attempts to collect. I've decided to give it a shot, not just for the money itself, but also because I believe that there is a larger issue of fairness at stake. The problem is, I have no idea how to go about collecting this debt.

For the most part my ex tends to go all ostrichy when unpleasant things arise - he's an amiable and likeable fellow, but avoidant as hell (see above). Maybe he's changed, maybe not. Because the ex that I knew is most likely to ignore a demand letter from me, I would rather not send one without credible and actionable recourse if he does not respond. In short, I won't bluff.

A few facts: I live in Oregon (where the divorce occurred) and ex now lives in Maryland. I am fairly certain he has no real property. I don't know if ex is remarried or not. I am about 85% certain that I have his present address. I have the name of one of his employers, but I doubt that it's current. I think it's safe to assume that he has a job. I have the all the vital stats a (former) spouse would have - previous addresses, SSN, DOB etc.

I've looked into enforcing this judgment myself but the different-sides-of-the-country issue makes it complicated. As one can imagine, trying to do things like proper service/notice, wage garnishments, or transfer of foreign (out of state) judgment from 3000 miles away without representation is damn tricky. I've talked to a few attorneys and their rates tend to be higher than what I can afford to lose if I come up empty handed. I haven't found an lawyer that will take this case on contingency and the few collection agencies I've looked at only buy debts from business, but my search for either certainly hasn't been exhaustive.

And advice would be greatly appreciated!
posted by littlegreenboat to Law & Government (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You say he is an amiable fellow who doesn't like being confronted- what about simply calling him up on the phone (if you can get a current phone number) and asking him if he can pay it? If he says no, ask him if he can send you a portion of it, then send you payments monthly. Be polite and friendly- you can send the serious stuff via letters and not get into it on the phone.
posted by arnicae at 11:53 AM on September 23, 2009

I think if you want a truly actionable letter you'd have to consult an attorney. From my layperson knowledge, collecting judgments can be a huge pain, it's a topic I've spent some hours researching here in Mass.

That said, the State of Oregon Law Library has a book called "Judgments and Collecting Judgments in Oregon"- it's definitely geared to an attorney audience, but it looks like it has some forms that may be handy. Not sure what county you're in, but there are also public county law libraries in OR, and I bet a reference librarian there could point in the right direction for a form or sample letter.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 12:04 PM on September 23, 2009

Contact the legal aid society or a family law clinic in your area. They might be able to give you some advice or at least a decent referral.
posted by Aizkolari at 2:19 PM on September 23, 2009

I am a lawyer but not a Maryland lawyer, so all I can do is give general pointers. Maryland has a version of the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act, which is the governing law for people who have a judgment in state A that they want to enforce in state B. It's found at Maryland Code, Courts and Judicial Proceedings, ยงยง 11-801 et seq. (meaning it's the next few code sections as well). Go here to get the Maryland Code. You'll have to get an authenticated copy of the judgment fro the Oregon court, and call the Maryland court where you're sending it to see whether they'll take personal checks or credit cards.

Candidly, the easiest way to collect a court judgment is passively-- have it filed in the real estate records of any county where the judgment debtor might have real property, and wait for him to try and sell or mortgage that property. Your judgment lien encumbers the property, and he can't sell or mortgage it through a title company or the like without paying you off-- and, since there's a pile of someone's money involved with the closing, it's less of a hassle to just cut you a check out of the proceeds. I don't know how or if that can be done with an out-of-state judgment that hasn't been domesticated (the technical term for what I describe in the first paragraph).
posted by missouri_lawyer at 1:34 PM on September 24, 2009

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