A civil case ends in a decision by the court. This can be after a trial, inquest, arbitration, default, confession, stipulation, or motion. The decision will state what the judge decided and sometimes it may explain how they made the decision. The decision can’t be enforced until a judgment is entered. A judgment is entered when the clerk signs and files it. The judgment is the final decision after a lawsuit. After the judge decides the case, the following must occur before the decision becomes official:

  1. A document, called a judgement, must be completed stating what must happen next; and
  2. The judgment must be entered by the clerk

A judgment can order that (1) money is paid, (2) something is done, or (3) that the case is dismissed. A judgment will also include terms such as costs and disbursements. Costs are the amount of money the law says the person who loses a case must pay to the person who wins the case. Disbursements are out of pocket expenses that the person who losses the case is responsible for, like filing fees. A judgment is good for 20 years, but if the plaintiff wants to enforce the judgment against land it is only good for 10 years unless the plaintiff renews it for another 10 years. If a judgment is enforced against land, the land may be sold to pay for the money owed.

Entry of a judgment happens when the clerk of the court signs and files the judgment. In some courts you must ask the clerk to prepare and record (or enter) a judgment in your favor. In other courts, you have to prepare the judgment and give it to the clerk to record. Contact the court where you got the decision to find out what to do next.


Default Judgments

If the defendant/respondent does not answer in time or make a motion, the plaintiff (or petitioner) can ask the court for a default judgment. A default judgment can give the plaintiff what they want because the defendant failed to respond or tell their side of the story. The default judgment usually gives the plaintiff the right to collect the amount of money that was asked for in the complaint, plus interest and court costs. The judgment will appear on the defendant’s credit report, and it can be there for up to seven years if it is not paid. The judgment also gives the plaintiff the right to collect money from the defendant’s bank account or salary. For more information see Collecting a Judgment.

To get a default judgment, the plaintiff may have to ask the court for an inquest. An inquest is a hearing where only one side testifies because the other side is not there. The purpose of an inquest is to decide whether the plaintiff/petitioner should receive what they asked for in their pleadings. The defendant can ask the court to vacate (cancel) the default judgment if:

  1. they have a good reason for not answering or coming to court, and
  2. a good reason why the plaintiff should not win the case

Read more at Vacating a Default Judgment


After Entry of Judgment

To enter (record) the judgment, the person who wins the case must:

  1. Serve a copy of the judgment and a copy of the notice of entry form on the person who loses the case. See How Legal Papers Are Delivered. The notice of entry tells the person who loses, the date the judgment was entered (recorded) and when the time to appeal started. The person who loses has 30 days to start the appeal process. See Starting an Appeal

  2. File the Affidavit of Service with the court

Once the judgment is entered (recorded), it can be enforced. When a money judgment is awarded by the court, the person who wins (the creditor), serves a copy of the judgment with notice of entry, and can start Collecting a Judgment against the person who loses (the debtor).


When the Judgment is Paid

When the debtor pays the judgment, the creditor must:

  1. File a Satisfaction of Judgment form with the Clerk within 20 days. The Satisfaction of Judgment form must be filed in the Court that entered the judgment, but if a Transcript of Judgment was filed in the County Clerk’s office, it must be filed there; and
  2. Mail a copy of the Satisfaction within 10 days to the debtor; and
  3. Send a copy to all other counties where a transcript of judgment was filed

If the creditor does not complete these steps, the debtor can sue the creditor for $100.

YouTube DIY Forms Ask a Law Librarian