How to collect a judgment in Florida

Creditors use various strategies to collect a judgment in Florida, focusing on the debtor’s assets and income sources. Here are the main ways a creditor can collect a judgment in Florida:

Wage Garnishment

This involves the creditor obtaining a court order that requires the debtor’s employer to withhold a portion of their wages and send it directly to the creditor until the debt is paid. Florida law limits the amount that can be garnished to the lesser of 25% of the debtor’s disposable earnings or the amount by which their weekly wages exceed 30 times the federal minimum wage.

Bank Account Garnishment

The creditor can also garnish the debtor’s bank accounts. By obtaining a garnishment order from the court, the creditor can direct the bank to freeze and seize funds in the debtor’s bank accounts to satisfy the judgment. This does not affect exempt funds, such as Social Security benefits, which are protected under federal law.

Garnishments can also be used for non-exempt brokerage accounts.

Levying Property

The creditor may obtain a writ of execution from the court, allowing the sheriff to seize and sell the debtor’s non-exempt personal property (e.g., vehicles, jewelry, equipment) or real estate at auction. The proceeds from the sale are used to pay off the judgment.

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Real Estate Liens

By recording a judgment lien certificate in the county where the debtor owns property, the creditor creates a lien on all non-exempt real property the debtor owns in that county. This means the debtor cannot sell or refinance the property without first paying off the lien. The lien remains in place for ten years and can be renewed for another ten years, potentially forcing the debtor to satisfy the judgment to clear their property title.

Post-Judgment Discovery

Post-judgment discovery involves using court processes to compel the debtor to disclose their assets. The creditor can request the court to order the debtor to complete financial disclosure forms, attend a deposition, or produce documents detailing their assets, income, and financial transactions. This information can then be used to target specific assets for garnishment, levy, or lien attachment.

Domesticating a Foreign Judgment

If the judgment was obtained in a state outside Florida, the creditor needs to domesticate it in Florida before proceeding with collection efforts. This involves filing the foreign judgment with a Florida court, which then recognizes it as a valid judgment in Florida, allowing the creditor to pursue all local enforcement options.

Rent Garnishments

If the debtor is a landlord receiving rental income, creditors can garnish these rents. By serving a writ of garnishment on the tenants, the tenants must pay their rent directly to the creditor rather than the landlord-debtor until the judgment is satisfied. This approach requires a court order and effectively redirects income from the debtor to the creditor.

Vehicle Levies

Creditors can target vehicles the debtor owns, such as cars, boats, and motorcycles. By obtaining a writ of execution, the creditor can have the sheriff or another official seize the vehicle to be sold at auction. The proceeds from the sale are then used to satisfy the judgment after deducting the costs associated with the levy and sale.

Levying on a Single Member LLC or Corporation

Florida law permits creditors to levy upon the debtor’s interest in single-member LLCs or corporations, potentially seizing company assets or forcing a sale of the company’s interest to satisfy the debtor’s personal judgment.

Charging Liens

Unlike single-member LLCs, Florida protects multi-member LLCs from direct asset seizure. Instead, creditors can obtain a charging order against the debtor’s interest in the LLC. This order does not allow the creditor to take LLC assets directly. Instead, the creditor to intercept distributions that would otherwise go to the debtor-member until the judgment is satisfied. It’s a way to garnish the debtor’s income from the LLC without disrupting the LLC’s operations.

Gideon Alper

About the Author

I’m an attorney who specializes in asset protection planning. I graduated with honors from Emory University Law School and have been practicing law for almost 15 years.

I have helped thousands of clients protect their assets from creditors. Before private practice, I represented the federal government while working for the IRS Office of Chief Counsel.

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