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What is the Actual Effect of a Final Judgment?

Many may not understand the actual effect of obtaining a judgment in their favor from the court. While you might expend extensive resources and personal energy engaging in litigation to obtain a judgment of the court, that judgment may not be of the benefit you expect. A “Final Judgment” is the written pronouncement of the court that determines the rights of the parties. The Final Judgment ends the legal proceedings in that court and allows for appeal to a higher court.

There are different types of judgments depending on the type of legal proceeding. In a proceeding for foreclosure of a lien or mortgage, the court may enter a Final Judgment of Foreclosure. Such a judgment requires the defendant to pay the amount owed under the lien or mortgage by a certain date and schedules a foreclosure sale if payment is not paid.

In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage, the court will enter a Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage. This judgment, in addition to dissolving the marriage, will resolve other issues between the parties, such as parenting, division of property and debts, and ordering child support and/or spousal support.

In a typical legal proceeding on a debt, or one seeking damages, the court may enter a Final Money Judgment. Such a judgment merely pronounces that one of the parties, either the plaintiff or the defendant in a counterclaim, recovers judgment in a specific dollar amount from the other party.

Unlike a judgment of foreclosure, there is no judicial sale of the party’s property if the judgment is not paid. Unlike an order of child support or an order of spousal support, the court does not have the power of contempt, or jailing, in the event the money judgment is not paid.

The party obtaining the money judgment must take the initiative and pay the cost of instituting post-judgment enforcement actions.  Examples of judgment enforcement proceedings are levy and sale of property by the Sheriff, garnishment, and proceedings supplementary to execution.  These post–judgment efforts will typically require the payment of court costs, attorney’s fees, sheriff’s costs, and in the case of garnishment payments, payment of attorney’s fees to the bank.  

Consequently, a Final Money Judgment will not automatically be enforced by the court and will likely require the expenditure of funds by the party holding the judgment. A Final Money Judgment may not result in the recovery of money. Many, if not most, Final Money Judgments may never be satisfied. We hope this brief description helps you when considering entering the legal process and helps you to consider your options and possible outcomes prior to litigation.

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