When a party obtains a judgment in a civil case, that party becomes what is called a “judgment-creditor.” The party that owes the judgment, which is a debt, is a “judgment-debtor.” While a judgment-creditor may be relieved to have won a judgment, that fact alone does not equal payment in all cases.
After obtaining a judgment in Illinois, judgment-creditors have several options for collecting the judgment from the judgment-debtor. Illinois law provides prevailing litigants with useful tools. These tools include wage and non-wage garnishments, liens, and citations to discover assets.
Garnishments are perhaps the most well-known collections tool. The judgment creditor may know of the judgment-debtor’s employment, or the judgment-creditor may know where the judgment-debtor has stored his or her funds. Subject to certain exemptions, portions of wages may be garnished periodically (paid to the judgment-creditor), and portions of accounts may be garnished in lump sums.
Liens are attractive and potentially underutilized tools. To the extent that a judgment-debtor has real estate (or other property), a lien may be recorded against the property, which will require that the judgment-debtor pay the judgment before the property may be transferred. A lien may also create other problems for the judgment-debtor, and often judgment-debtors will want to dispose of the liens (by paying) as soon as possible. Additionally, in limited circumstances, it may be possible to foreclose on a lien; however, for a variety of reasons, this is rarely done in this context.
Finally, the citation to discover assets may be the most under-appreciated tool available to creditors. The benefits of a lien and garnishment are largely available through a citation proceeding, and citations to discover assets offer judgment-creditors significant abilities to gather information from judgment-debtors about the existence of employment or assets, if this information is not known. A judgment-debtor may have to provide proof of income and documentation of bank records, taxes, and other assets in which the judgment-debtor has an interest. The judgment-debtor may even be required to answer questions under oath.