Many clients think that once they have “won” their case and received a ruling from the court, everything is settled in their case. However, just because the judge says that one party owes the other party money does not necessarily mean that the losing party will pay what they owe. Collecting upon a judgment can be a difficult process. Many assets in Texas are exempt from unsecured creditors (e.g. one’s homestead, one’s car, one’s home furnishings, and in many instances, one’s retirement accounts). This process can be made even harder where the Final Judgment signed by the judge is incomplete or is missing certain key elements. Here are the top 5 most important things to make sure are in your Final Judgment:
1) Make sure you state the parties’ names correctly
You would be surprised at how many times judgments simply misstate a party’s name–whether it be a simple spelling error, using a business defendant’s DBA name rather than their formal legal name, or forgetting to include the names of all Defendants who have been found liable. It is vital to make sure that your judgment correctly lists the parties’ names and includes all of the names of every party who was ordered to pay damages.
2) Make sure you clearly delineate the exact amount owed
While this seems self-explanatory, it is not uncommon for judgments to simply state that the judge determined one party was liable for breach of contract against the other party…without ever stating the amount of damages awarded. It is important to break down the money judgment into distinct parts. For instance, if the plaintiff won on two separate counts (e.g. breach of contract and defamation), the court may award separate amounts for each separate violation. It is vital to specify the total amount awarded for each cause of action, and also tie it to which defendant owes that amount (if there is more than one defendant). Likewise, it is important to clearly delineate a separate amount for attorney’s fees and costs which were awarded to the plaintiff.
3) Make sure you explain how interest will accrue on each amount owed
Many times, lawyers forget to include the amount of interest that will accrue on the money judgment. In many instances, the statutorily-prescribed rate of interest will apply, but this can be overridden by clearly-written contractual provisions agreed to by the parties. Likewise, in many instances the plaintiff will be entitled to pre-judgment or post-judgment interest on the monetary damages, but these must be clearly specified in the final judgment. These allowances for pre-judgment and post-judgment interest may not apply to the awarded attorney’s fees and court costs, so it is important to specify how these interest amounts are to be calculated.
4) Make sure the Judgment says that it “finally disposes of all parties and claims and is appealable”
Unless this special language is in the judgment, there is a good argument that it is not final (and thus cannot be collected upon until it is final).
5) Make sure the Judgment accurately reflects what the judge ordered
While this may also seem basic, it is vitally important that the plaintiff’s lawyer take clear notes at the final hearing as to the exact strictures of what the judge ordered. The judge may have creatively crafted both monetary relief and non-monetary relief, and it is important that the Final Judgment clearly state both of these important types of awards.