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Enforcing a court judgment

After all the facts and arguments have been presented to a judge, he/she will usually enter a judgement.

A judgment is the rendering of a decision of a court. Often that involves granting cost awards, or other remedies, such as being forced to do something or abstain from doing something.

All Canadian provinces and territories have a version of the Canadian Judgements Act. Under the act, the judgements of the courts are registered and the act mandates that they be enforced. Depending on the various acts, the order expires within a certain amount of time. For example, in British Columbia, the time period of validity for the order is 10 years. However, you should try to enforce an order as soon as possible.

When an order for costs is made, the person to whom money is owed is called the judgment creditor and the person who has to pay the money is called the judgment debtor. Usually there are a few steps the judgment creditor takes to help enforce the order. Most provincial and territorial courts have similar rules when it comes to the enforcement of the judgment, although they are not the same. You should consult with your own provincial or territorial court rules, or a lawyer, to find out how you can get your judgment enforced.

In general, how can the judgment be enforced?

If you have been given a cost award, then the first thing you should do is file the order with the court registry and start enforcement steps under the applicable statute. If a lawyer is representing you, then you should ask him/her or what the next steps are after judgment has been found in your case.

Usually, the judgment creditor asks the judgment debtor for payment. Depending on the province, the request is made via registered letter. There should be evidence of the letter and the fact that it was sent and received by the judgment debtor. In the letter, the creditor sets out what the debt is and when the court made the decision for cost. The creditor also gives the debtor a deadline and sufficient time to comply.

The debtor refuses to pay, what now?

There are a number of options open to a judgment creditor, depending on province or territory. These options include:

  • Subpoena the debtor to find out what the debtor’s financial situation is;
  • Seize and sell the debtor’s assets;
  • Garnish the debtor’s wages or bank account; or
  • Register the judgment against the debtor’s land.

If the person owns property in their name, then the last option may be a viable one. Debtors who have judgments against them registered on the title of their land cannot sell this land until the debt is paid off. The only downside to this may be that the creditor may have to wait until the debtor tries to sell the land.

What if the judgment debtor cannot pay me?

The problem is that if the judgment debtor has no income and no assets, it will be very hard to get the money that is owed to you. For example, if a person is unemployed and/or homeless it will likely not possible to get the cost award.

Every province and territory has their own legislation and rules of enforcing orders. If you are not sure of how to get your order enforced, consult a lawyer.

Read more:

Enforcing Court Orders British Columbia

A Guide to Enforcing Your Order in Ontario