The ABCs of Judgment Collection in Texas

By Josh Borsellino

Most nonlawyers assume that a case is over, or at least almost over, when a judgment is entered by a court. To the contrary, some of the most important decisions to be made in any case occur after judgment is entered. This article will provide a brief overview of the various collection options available to a plaintiff in Texas who has recovered a money judgment against a defendant.

A.        Abstract of Judgment

A judgment itself is insufficient to create a lien on the debtor’s assets. To create a lien, a creditor must abstract the judgment. This is a two-step process, governed by Chapter 52 of the Texas Property Code. First, the creditor must file an application for abstract of judgment with the clerk of the court from which the judgment was obtained. Once the court issues the abstract, it must be recorded with the county clerk — this creates a lien against any nonexempt real property owned by the debtor in that county. A creditor should consider recording an abstract of judgment in each county in which the debtor owns or may at some point in the future own property.

B.        Writ of Execution

A writ of execution is a judicial decree commanding a sheriff or constable to take possession of the debtor’s nonexempt real and personal property and sell it to satisfy the debt. This process is governed by Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code 621-656. A prevailing plaintiff must request a writ of execution from the clerk of the court that entered the judgment. Once issued, the writ should be delivered to a sheriff or constable, who will then levy on or take possession of nonexempt property belonging to the debtor. The officer may then sell the assets.

C.        Post-Judgment Garnishment

A post-judgment writ of garnishment allows a judgment creditor to seize the proceeds of the debtor’s bank accounts. A creditor must file a sworn application stating that the defendant does not possess property in Texas sufficient to satisfy the judgment under Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code 63.001. Once the writ of garnishment is issued, the garnishee (typically the bank where the account is held) may not pay the debtor proceeds from the account. Thus, the account is essentially “frozen” until the court decides or the parties agree whether the proceeds should be turned over to the creditor.

D.        Turnover Order

A judgment creditor may also obtain a turnover order, which requires the debtor to deliver nonexempt property to a constable or receiver for sale, with the proceeds going to the creditor. This process is governed by Chapter 31 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. Such an order is punishable by contempt of court and, thus, can be a powerful collection tool.

There is no “one size fits all” collection method. Each case is unique, and a multitude of factors determine which post-judgment remedy would be the most efficient, cost-effective way to collect money from a debtor. If you have questions about obtaining or collecting on a judgment, please contact Josh Borsellino at Bailey & Galyen at 817.276.6000.  Mr. Borsellino is licensed to practice only in the state of Texas.

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