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Can You Go To Jail For Not Paying A Judgment

jail for judgement


Someone just sued you, and unfortunately, you got the short end of the stick. You receive judgment, and it’s a lot of money. Money that you know you could spend on something else rather than what the court demands from you. And so you think to yourself, “Should I even pay this? Or will I go to jail if I don’t?”

If you don’t have the answer, continue reading this article to find out.

What is Judgment?

A judgment comes after you, or a person sues you. As the creditor (the one who wants to collect money) files the lawsuit, it’s up to the court to decide how or what will suffice it. And that decision is the judgment.

As for the monetary value, typically, it is the amount you owe to the creditor plus interest. 

Forms of Judgment

Judgments can either be written or oral form, depending on the circumstances.

As you may have seen in movies, hearing conclusions are where oral judgments happen, and courts use them on heavy caseloads or lawsuits that need quick judgments. On the other hand, written ones are for complex cases, where the possibility of appeal is high. Or when cases have significant importance to the public and legal community. It can sometimes take written judgments days, weeks, or even months before release.

The Types of Judgment

You can distinguish types of judgment depending on their grounds. This includes the procedures both parties will follow, issues the court will consider before judgment, and the judgment’s effect. 

Judgments different from the standard ones are:

Consent Judgment: Also called “agreed judgment,” consent judgments are settlements agreed by both parties and the judge. 

Declaratory Judgment: Judgment declaring the rights and liabilities of both parties. You’ll hear this in cases where parties have differing opinions on their rights on duties or when asking for clarification and nothing else. In the US, declaratory judgments are a “milder” form of an injunction order. Though it’s not binding, you still need to act by what the court has declared.

Default Judgment: Judgment in favor of one party because of the failure of the other to take action. It’s usually passed when the defendant fails to appear in court or submit a defense after the summon. Default judgments can give the creditor the power to take anything from you without factual or legal analysis from the court.

Interlocutory Judgment: A type of judgment that provides a temporary decision on issues requiring timely action. The judgment is not final, meaning you can appeal it. It may also have a different appeal procedure than other judgments.

Reserved Judgment: Judgment not given immediately after a trial or hearing’s conclusion. It may take days, weeks, or months before the judgment is released. Reserve judgment will sometimes have the Latin annotation “Cur. adv. vult.” or “c.a.v” (Curia advisari vult), which translates to “the court wishes to be advised.”

Summary Judgment: Judgment without trial and only uses the court’s interpretation of the pleadings.  

Vacated Judgment: Judgment wiped from your record. Defendants can make a motion to vacate the judgment if they think the final judgment is unfair, which results in a trial de novo if passed by the court.

What Can Happen If You Don’t Pay Judgment, Can You Go To Jail?

Unfortunately, only bad things will happen if you can’t pay your judgment. Judgments will keep asking you nicely until you agree, giving the creditor the power to take money from you, even if you don’t want to.

Your Property And Wages Can Be Seized

In the US, creditors can request for a writ of execution where an enforcement officer, like the sheriff or city marshal, can take your belongings and sell them. It’s the same in other western countries. UK courts can issue a warrant of control. And in Canada, you can get an order of seizure and sale. Regardless of the name, they serve the same function in which it allows the creditor to seize your belongings and sell them to pay your judgment.

Creditors could also lien your property, meaning they can own it. For example, say you’ve been renovating your house to sell it. Either the creditor will not let you sell it until you can pay them back, or whatever you gain from selling it will go to the creditor first. The UK has something similar called a charging order to prevent a defendant from selling their assets like investments, land, and property. 

If you live in Canada, you can register your court judgment to restrict the ability of the defendant to sell or mortgage their land.

Another thing that can happen is garnishment, in which courts can order your employer to take money from your wage or pull money from your account. The money taken will vary from different places, but the court will ensure that you’ll have enough to survive.

YES! You Can Serve Jail Time

It is rare, but you can go to jail if you don’t pay your judgment. 

If the creditor still can’t get money from you, they can ask the court to order a debtor’s examination where you’ll have to appear in court to answer a series of questions. If you don’t show up, the court will interpret your absence as disobedience and can “find you in civil contempt.” You can either get a fine, go to jail, or both. Jail time can last until you pay the bond. And is typically the amount you owe.

So be sure to show up if the court will summon you.

Your Debt Can Increase Because Of Interests and Fees

Judgment will continue to accrue interest until it is inactive. Typically, it can last five or seven years. But if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, it can go up to 20 years or more, which can be very heavy to bear in mind.


Getting a judgment from the court is bad news. And it will keep bringing more if you continue to avoid it. So, settle it as quickly as possible and hire a lawyer to ensure that everything goes smoothly.

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