How to Collect a Judgment in Pennsylvania

You and your attorney filed a lawsuit. The county court judge awarded you the verdict. Everything’s great. Right? Well, brace yourself. Because now the tricky part comes – how to collect a judgment.

It happens all the time, especially in a small claims judgment. Maybe you’re a landlord trying to evict a delinquent tenant behind on rent. Perhaps you’re a business with a business partner that refuses to honor your contract. Maybe you create a website for a client who refuses to pay the bill after completing the work.

So, in each of these cases, you hire a local attorney. You complete the court forms and litigation proceeds. Finally, the court schedules a trial. In an act of defiance, the defendant may fail to show up at the trial. Or maybe they do, and you sit through the labors of a court trial.

The judge or jury decides in your favor. You have a court judgment declaring the defendant owes you money. Finally, you’re going to get paid. You’ll walk out of court with a check in your hand backed by a court order demanding payment.

And then the reality sets in. Yes, you won the case. But no, you’ll not see any money because winning your case only means you’ve been awarded a judgment. So now you’ve incurred attorney’s fees. You’ve spent countless hours preparing for the case and appearing in court. And you get nothing.

What was the point? And now, how do you collect on your judgment?

How a Judgment Differs from a Verdict

Understanding this point is essential – a judgment is different from a verdict. Pennsylvania law recognizes that a judgment represents an official entry of a ruling or decision by the judge relating to your case. In this scenario, the verdict is that you won the case, which becomes a matter of court record.

But here’s the catch. You can collect on a judgment, not a verdict.

As a result, you have to take additional steps. But first, let’s address some terms. You become the judgment creditor. The individual who now owes you the money becomes the judgment debtor. And understand this –many judgment debtors go to great lengths to avoid relinquishing assets.

Judgment Debtors and Assets

After issuing a judgment, the debtor must file a financial disclosure statement listing all their assets. If the person fails to comply, the judge can issue a contempt of court charge.

A judge can also demand the debtor appear in court for an examination to disclose assets relating to the below categories. Failing to appear may result in an arrest warrant.

  • Cash
  • Checking and savings accounts
  • Investment accounts
  • Business ownership shares
  • Trusts and inheritance
  • Safes, vaults, and other secure storage spaces
  • Real estate
  • Personal property, including home, vehicles, and jewelry
  • Property transfer

As mentioned, some debtors resist payment. In that case, you may be able to seize assets, including wage garnishment, taking cash or assets from the person’s business, and seizing real estate or vehicles.

Steps on How to Collect a Judgment

You’ll need to take these steps if you run into that scenario. You’ll want to talk with a lawyer near you for legal advice on how to navigate the process.

Step 1: Converting a Verdict to a Judgment

In trying to collect money, your first step as a judgment creditor is to convert your verdict or other court determination declaring both parties’ rights and obligations into a judgment. You do this by filing a Praecipe (a request for a legal document) to Enter Judgment with the county’s prothonotary, where the court rendered its verdict.

Step 2: Determining the Location of the Debtor’s Property

Your second step is determining where the judgment debtor holds their personal property. The judgment allows you to place a real estate lien against property owned by the judgment debtor. You must record your judgment with the county recorder’s offer. With the lien in place, the person must fulfill the obligation before they can sell a building or property.

But here’s the caveat. It only serves as a lien on that real estate in the county where the judgment is filed. For example, if the court enters a small claims judgment of $5,000 in Montgomery County, but your judgment-debtor owns real estate in Bucks County with no other personal property, you’ll likely never collect on your judgment.

Step 3: Transferring the Judgment Lien

So, your third step is transferring the judgment from Montgomery County to Bucks County, where the person’s property lies. As a result, if the judgment debtor attempts to sell their real estate in Bucks County, a title search alerts prospective buyers to the $5000.00 judgment. The judgment remains attached to the property until paid or satisfied.

As the judgment creditor, you may transfer the judgment to any county, though it makes the most sense to transfer the judgment to a county where the person possesses personal property. You may also continue to apply a judgment lien against the property until the amount of the judgment is satisfied. A lawyer can help you with the transfer.

However, understand that you'll encounter new filing requirements each time you transfer a judgment to another county and get hit with additional fees. And that’s part of the issue with collecting on your judgment.

When you factor in attorney’s fees, filing fees, time spent, and other items, you can quickly reach an amount equivalent to the money you’re trying to collect. Indeed, that’s what many judgment debtors count on. You’ll conclude you’re spending what it will take to collect your money, and you’ll give up.

Step 4: Seizing Personal Property

Now that you have the judgment lien assigned to the correct county, you can enlist that county’s sheriff to seize the judgment-debtor’s assets, including real property, bank accounts, and other personal property. The county sheriff has the authority to take bank accounts and conduct sales over seized real estate.

Engaging the sheriff’s office requires a writ of execution with the county prothonotary, who then signs the writ of execution. That signed writ, along with a fee (yes, more money), is then sent to the sheriff. Your attorney can help with executing the writ.

You must describe in detail within the writ of execution the property the sheriff is to seize, such as money, personal property, or real estate. You can gain insight into the person’s finances through the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure. It permits you to engage in “discovery in aid of execution.

Discovery in Aid of Execution to Collect on a Judgment

As the judgment creditor, you can take the deposition of any person, including the judgment debtor, representative of their bank, or other financial institution holding the person’s funds), known as the garnishee. And you can take discovery in aid of execution any time after judgment, including before the Prothonotary approves the writ of execution.

You may also issue written discovery to the garnishee, known as interrogatories to garnishee, to obtain more information regarding the person’s monetary assets. And you can serve the interrogatories to the garnishee whenever the writ of execution issues. The person then has twenty days under Pennsylvania law to provide you with written answers.

Although you can use these legal tools for bank account garnishment, wage garnishment, with few exceptions, is generally unavailable in Pennsylvania.

If you find the person is cash-poor, you can instruct the sheriff (by way of an adequately authored writ of execution) to levy against the debtor’s personal effects or real estate. The sheriff can take an inventory of the personal property available and schedule a sale of the assets, which is open to the public, a few weeks later.

If the judgment is a substantial amount, such as tens of thousands of dollars, then attaching a judgment lien against the judgment debtor’s house may be an option. However, the costs associated with securing a judgment to real estate can cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.

In addition, the Sheriff typically only holds real estate sales at regular intervals, at times as infrequently as every other month. So, it could take you as long to collect on the judgment as it did to get the judgment in the first place.

Renewing Your Judgment

Judgments aren’t permanent. In Pennsylvania, judgments are valid for five years. But, you can renew them for another five years. As a result, judgments act as liens against real property for 20 years and longer when properly renewed.

Hiring an Agency to Collect on a Judgment

After taking the above steps with no success, you can hire a collection agency. Some specialize in collecting debts from people who defy judgments. However, you’ll be spending even more to collect what you’re owed.

For example, a collection agency may ask for one-third of the judgment amount, plus an hourly rate. Many request half the amount of the debt they collect as payment.

Trying to Determine How to Collect on Your Judgment?

As you’ve read, trying to collect on a judgment is no picnic. It can take years before you see your money if you ever see it.

If you’re trying to collect a judgment, talk to our lawyers. We staff our law offices with experienced attorneys covering various practice areas. So, we have the expertise to support your case on many levels.

The 5 Most Important Estate Planning Documents

What are the 5 Most Important Estate Planning Documents?

Noted author and financial planner Suze Orman says, "Estate planning is an important and everlasting gift you can give your family." And she's right. But if you create one, you need to do it right. So first, talk with an estate attorney. Second, make sure your plan includes the five most important estate planning documents.

When it comes to those documents, the average person immediately thinks about a last will. And yes, that's one of the five most important estate planning documents. But unfortunately, the average person often stops at will creation.

A comprehensive estate plan considers these 5 essential documents:

  1. Last will and testament
  2. A durable power of attorney
  3. A medical power of attorney
  4. Revocable trust
  5. Living will

An estate planning attorney can assist you in drafting these crucial planning documents.

Beneficiary Designations

Another important factor when addressing estate planning is establishing who will get your assets and designating beneficiaries. Again, an estate attorney can guide you in selecting beneficiaries.

A beneficiary designation determines who will get life insurance policies, IRAs, 401(k)s, and other types of financial accounts upon your death. Once assigned, your executor or executrix, upon your death, ensures that your beneficiaries receive assets per your designations.

Beneficiaries may be different than those named in your last will and testament. You can also have multiple beneficiaries in your estate plan.

For example, assets can divide among more than one primary beneficiary. In addition, you can include multiple secondary beneficiaries if a primary beneficiary dies before you, can't be located, or refuses to accept the asset.

Beneficiaries fall into three categories:

  • Eligible designated beneficiaries (see below for types of EDBs)
  • Designated beneficiaries
  • Non-designated beneficiaries

In addition, eligible designated beneficiaries cover five individual types:

  1. The account owner's surviving spouse
  2. A child who is younger than 18 years of age
  3. A disabled individual
  4. A chronically ill individual
  5. A person not more than ten years younger than the deceased IRA owner

If a living person named as a retirement account beneficiary does not fall into these five categories, they are considered a designated beneficiary.

The Most Important Estate Planning Documents

Now that you understand beneficiary designations, let's move on to the five most important estate planning documents.

1. Last Will and Testament

So, let's start with the most prominent document, your last will and testament. It states who receives your assets after death. It also assigns the person managing the will (an executor or executrix), your beneficiaries, and guardians for your minor children, if any. To that point, you need to take the time to determine your executor or executrix, as they will handle everything associated with your estate.

Where assets are concerned, your will determines where your assets will go. These assets can be money, real estate, possessions, or anything else you want to designate a beneficiary.

Your will also presents how your estate pays off debts. That relieves the burden on your loved ones. A common concern of clients during the initial estate planning process is what happens with debt from the estate. We've addressed that answer here.

Keep this in mind. Your will must be executed properly and based on state laws. It must also clearly state how you bequeath your assets. Otherwise, someone could contest your will, or your assets will be in probate court. So rather than taking the do-it-yourself approach with a web-based template, you might consider using a will lawyer or estate planning attorney.

2. Durable Power of Attorney

A durable power of attorney (POA) document, also referred to as financial power of attorney, assigns someone to manage your finances should you become incapacitated or suffer memory loss. Apart from finances, a POA designates someone to handle your legal and business matters.

The person you appoint is known as your agent or attorney-in-fact. They can be a friend or even an attorney. Your agent handles any number of affairs:

  1. Buying and selling property
  2. Managing finances, including bank accounts, bills, and investment
  3. Tax matters
  4. Applying for government benefits

A power of attorney document saves your family from petitioning the court to become your conservator. So, this simple estate planning document saves time, money, and hassles.

3. Medical Power of Attorney

Although a chief consideration of any estate plan focuses on your finances and assets, a good estate planning document addresses medical or healthcare decisions. A medical power of attorney document determines who makes medical care decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated.

Typically, a healthcare POA gets created in conjunction with a living will. Indeed, they can be in the same document as both focus on your medical care. Both documents classify as advanced healthcare directives that address your medical care.

As with a POA, that person is known as an attorney-in-fact. Generally, you assign it to a family member such as your spouse or adult child. But you can elect to give it to anyone.

Similar to a durable power of attorney, without this estate planning document, your family faces court time and costs to petition for guardianship so that they can make medical decisions for you. Your estate planning attorney can ensure this document gets executed properly to address your wishes.

4. Living Will

A living will document presents another advanced healthcare directive that addresses your end-of-life treatment and care. Specifically, it outlines the procedures, medications, and treatments you want, or don't want, to prolong your life if you're incapable of addressing those issues with your doctor.

Your living will addresses numerous considerations:

  1. Tube Feeding: Do you want to be tube fed to prolong your life? If so, for how long?
  2. Resuscitation: What happens if your heart stops? Do you want medical staff to conduct CPR? Or do you want a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order in your living will?
  3. Intubation: You can determine if and how long you want to be intubated and placed on a mechanical ventilator.
  4. Pain Management: Your living will presents what pain management and medications you want. You can also determine whether you wish to die at home.
  5. Organ Donation: You can elect to donate organs for transplant following your death in your living will.

Without this document, your loved ones will have to determine your treatment, which burdens them with difficult choices.

You can access living will templates on the web. But considering the importance of this document, it's worth talking with an estate planning attorney to ensure you capture all the details correctly. And that the document is legally sound.

5. Revocable Trust

That brings us to the last of the five most important estate planning documents – a revocable trust. Unfortunately, these documents can be a bit more complex.

At its core, a revocable trust allows you to pass your assets over time. Best of all, a trust avoids probate. Equally important, because it's revocable, you can change or terminate the trust anytime.

You become a grantor, trustor, or settlor by creating the trust. As the grantor, you are also the trustee and primary beneficiary during your lifetime. Although it offers no tax benefits, it does accomplish several things:

  1. Privacy: As mentioned above, the primary purpose of a revocable trust is to avoid probate, where our assets get distributed at death. However, the probate process is public. So, by avoiding probate, you maintain privacy.
  2. Aligns with Your Wishes: Similar to a will, a revocable trust distributes assets. But you can amend limitlessly. So, you can change your asset distribution at any time.
  3. Beneficiary Protection: A revocable trust provides creditor protection as long as the assets remain in the trust upon death.
  4. Estate Tax: A revocable trust may reduce state estate taxes if you live in a state with an additional estate tax. Fortunately, Pennsylvania has no extra state tax.

Estate Planning isn't Easy.

Creating an effective estate plan is complex. That's why you should enlist the support of an estate planning attorney. They'll ensure you have the proper documents, that each gets appropriately executed, and that each complies with state laws.

High Swartz has experienced estate attorneys versed in advanced healthcare directives, inheritance tax, probate, estate litigation, and more. We have law offices in Bucks County and Montgomery County, PA.

We'll make sure your estate plan covers all the bases, so you know all your wishes will be met.

Missy Boyd to Present at PBI CLE Regarding Gray Divorce

Head of High Swartz’s family law practice, Missy Boyd will be presenting at the Pennsylvania Bar Institute’s upcoming CLE on Gray Divorce. Missy will specifically be speaking on the alimony portion of senior divorce proceedings.

Presenting along with Missy will be Elizabeth S. Campana, Kelley Menzano Fazzini Esq., Carol Sikov Gross Esq., CELA, Jonathan T. Hoffman Esq., Darren J. Holst Esq., and Diane M. Zabowski Esq. They’ll be elaborating on the complex nuances of gray divorce and how it is different than divorce earlier on in life.

In the past it was quite uncommon to hear of an older couple considering divorce. Americans can attribute the change to adapting social views, an aging population, and new divorce laws in Pennsylvania for the dramatic increase in divorces after age 50.

There are many obstacles and areas to consider that will be addressed during the CLE, including:

  • Alimony
  • Financial Planning for Retirement
  • Premarital Agreements
  • Estate Planning
  • Social Security
  • Medicare and Medicaid

Registration is still open and can be accessed at the PBI website.

Gray Divorce - Issues and Considerations 2022

  • Wednesday June 22, 2022
  • 9:30am - 1:30pm
  • In-person locations at select bar associations throughout PA / a remote option is also available

If you would like to learn more about gray divorce and how it can affect your situation, visit our section on the topic.

Bucks County Custody Cases - Judith Algeo to Present at CLE

Bucks County Custody Cases

This CLE is FREE for attorneys who volunteer at the Bucks County Custody Clinic on Wednesday, June 22, 2022 OR for another LASP pro bono case. See information below regarding Bucks County Pro Bono Opportunity.  Interested attorneys must contact Megan Reinprecht at or 484-206-8101 prior to this CLE to attend for free.

To register, click here.

Attendees will learn about different types of child custody and get an overview of PA custody law and the different court processes. The CLE will specifically train attendees in how to assist individuals with filling out initial paperwork or modifications of custody petitions in Bucks County. They will also be trained in how to advise individuals about filing, service, and court proceedings.

Bucks County Custody Cases CLE

Tuesday, June 14th, 2022
12:30 - 1:30 PM
Location: Hybrid. Members are welcome to view this program virtually via Zoom or in-person at the BCBA. Connection information sent out upon registration.

1 Substantive CLE Credit

Presenters will be Kasey Daniel, Erika Becker, and Katrina Ihrer of Legal Aid, and Judith Algeo of High Swartz.

Fee: $35 Members, $60 Non-Members

To attend this CLE for free, Volunteers are still needed for Bucks County Clinic on Wednesday, June 22.

  • LASP is hosting a Virtual Custody Clinic for Bucks County residents on Wednesday, June 22. 2022 from 9 am.-12 p.m.
  • No family law experience needed.
  • Volunteers will be trained at CLE on Tuesday. June 14 at 12:30 p.m. (hybrid In-person/Zoom).
  • Free CLE credit for training and for volunteer hours (CLE will be free if you volunteer at clinic or take on other LASP pro bono case).
  • Volunteers will be expected to provide continued representation of clients.
  • Volunteers will assist clients with filing out custody paperwork. and advise them on how and where to file it.
  • Interested attorneys may contact Megan Reinprecht. LASP Community Engagement Unit Staff Attorney & Bucks County Pro Bono Coordinator. at or 484-206-8101. or register for the CLE through Bucks County Bar Association (when posted).

Chelsey A. Christiansen to Speak at MBA Dependency Training CLE

High Swartz family law attorney Chelsey A. Christiansen will continue with Part 2 of the Montgomery Bar Association CLE, essentially an immersion into the dependency system.

The CLE, being held at the Bar will be moderated by Sharon Hofer, Esq. and feature other speakers include Craig Bluestein, Esq., Judge Demchick-Alloy, Judge Eisenberg, Judge Ferman, Judge Page, Juvenile Court Hearing Officer Maria Gibbons, and Jennifer Spata, Esq.

Speakers will delve into topics like Reasonable Efforts and how attorneys can utilize them in representing the parent before they get to the courtroom and Family Service plans. An important aspect of the CLE will be assisting parents advocating for themselves, creating a plan for the child’s return to home and maintaining it. The group will also discuss best practices if a case is pointing to Termination of Parental Rights and duties of confidentiality provided by the rules of professional conduct.

Registration is still available and can be found at the Montgomery Bar Association website.

Guidelines for Child Support in PA

Courts order child support in PA to help defray the costs of rearing a child.

Let’s start with the basics. Support obligations typically lasts until a child turns 18. However, payments can extend beyond that if a child is still in high school or has physical or mental conditions requiring additional support. A Child support family law attorney can offer more insight into guidelines for help in Pennsylvania.

Support payments also do not automatically end when a child turns 18. In PA, the parent paying support must submit a modification petition to stop payments. Until the order is terminated, the parent is obligated to continue payments. Learn more about child support termination here.

To receive child support in PA, parents can agree to ask a judge to approve support during a civil case involving divorce. In most instances, however, the process begins by completing an Application for Child Support. That application then gets submitted to a local PA Domestic Relations office.

Determining Child Support in PA – Who pays whom and how much?

Courts determine child support amounts using child support guidelines established by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. But child support is based on the reasonable needs of the child. In addition, it considers the reasonable ability of parents to pay.

Guidelines for child support in PA base payments on both parent’s monthly income and the number of children. The child custody arrangement determines who receives support and who pays support. For example, the parent with primary physical custody receives child support from the parent with partial physical custody.

Although the guidelines establish the foundation for support, parents may reach an agreement that pays more or less than guideline recommendations. In addition, courts may order child support payments even if the parents aren't working. Therefore, it's best to enlist the support of a family law attorney to help clarify matters.

Support payments cover items such as:

  • Monetary support for food, clothing, and shelter
  • Health insurance
  • Education expenses
  • Child care expenses
  • Medical expenses
  • Visitation travel costs

Every four years, the Pennsylvania legislature assesses the child support guidelines. Then it updates them to reflect the cost of living and other procedural changes.

The Pennsylvania Domestic Relations Rules Committee uses a mathematical formula to measure what portion of household income parents spend on their children. That forms the baseline for what divorced, separated, and unmarried parents of children should spend, with the notion that they intend to spend an equivalent amount. Survey data updates every few years, leading to updated child support guidelines.

Updated Pennsylvania Guidelines for Support for 2022

As noted, guidelines change every four years, so on January 1, 2022, Pennsylvania enacted new child support guidelines. Talk to a family attorney near you to see if the new guidelines for child support in PA impact you.
The new guidelines reject child support reductions based on expected or temporary earning fluctuations. In addition, if the paying parent encounters a situation outside their control, like an illness, layoff, or termination, the guidelines support a reduction in payment for child support in PA. Other critical updates include those presented below. Again, a family law attorney can clarify the impact of these updates.

Expect to pay more for child support.

With the new guidelines, you’ll generally pay more for child support. How much more depends on your combined income level.

Generally, as your income and number of children increases, so will your child support. For instance, with a $20,000 monthly combined income, support payments increased 22%, or an additional $1,550 per month for a 2022 total of $3890 for one child.

Here’s a closer look at the guideline’s payment adjustments:

updated pennsylvania support payment adjustments for 2022

Elimination of the 30% reduction for parenting time

Under previous guidelines, courts reduced child support by 30% for assumed parenting time. But that provision has been stripped. So now, there's no presumption of custody time. As a result, most cases will see increases in child support.

Introduction of an adjustment for custody of more than 40%

The new guidelines grasp that the more time you have the children, the greater your expenses.

Let’s assume you have shared physical custody and pay support. If you have 40% or more of custodial time, including overnights, the new guidelines entitle you to a decrease on the base support.

Adjustments to earning capacity

The PA Supreme Court addressed earning capacity as well. It made the following revisions:

  • A parent would receive no income adjustments if they took a lower-paying job to counter a support obligation. The same principle applies to a parent who leaves or changes employment voluntarily or for cause.
    Earning capacity applies only to one full-time job. So only one full-time job counts if you work at more than one job.
    Earning capacity now considers child care expenses.

Provisions for additional expenses

Courts must now include reasonable childcare responsibilities and expenses with earning capacity. Additional payments also apply to parents for costs relating to education, extracurricular, or developmental activities as long as the expense is reasonable under each parent's circumstances.

The parent seeking an expense allocation must promptly provide documentation for those expenses upon receipt. Previous guidelines requested documentation no later than March 31 of the following year. Expenses may relate to:

  • unreimbursed medical bills
  • extracurricular activities
  • private school tuition
  • summer camp, etc.

Filing a Modification Request for Child Support in PA

Despite the updates from January 1, 2022, increases don't apply to prior rulings automatically. Instead, parents or a family law attorney must file a modification request to secure new orders from the court.

Those modification requests must present grounds for filing and note the change in guidelines.

Our Family Law Firm Can Help

Our family law firm serves clients throughout the greater Philadelphia area, including Bucks, Montgomery, Chester, and Philadelphia counties. We also have an office in Cherry Hill, NJ.

Our family law attorneys can support you with understanding updates to guidelines for child support in PA. We can also file the necessary modifications to get you additional help. You can also talk with the family lawyers in our Norristown and Doylestown law offices about other concerns like divorce, custody, PFA orders, and marital agreements.

Regardless of your legal concern, our lawyers understand that they serve people first. It’s important that you understand your problems fully before applying the law to your advantage.

High Swartz's Statement in Support of Juneteenth

Although Juneteenth may not be a household term, it represents an extremely important date in the history of our country.

High Swartz celebrates equal rights and understands that education and solidarity are important on this day and every day.

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is a combination of 2 words – June and Nineteenth, or June 19th, which is the day that Americans recognize the emancipation of slavery in the United States. Although many may not be aware of the holiday or have only recently heard of it, recognition dates back to the year after slavery was abolished on June 19, 1865. On this date, Union Army General Gordon Granger announced that slavery was abolished in Texas.

Although President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery in slave states over two and a half years earlier, enforcement relied on the presence of Union troops in those areas. Even two Union Border States, Delaware and Kentucky still legally practiced slavery up until the ratification of the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery nationwide. Texas, being the farthest state from the Union army’s impact made it difficult to enforce the law. It was the arrival of the army in Texas that effectively ended the practice in southern states.

Is Juneteenth a national holiday?

In 2021, President Joe Biden signed into law the national observance of Juneteenth, or June 19th as a federal holiday. Holiday recognition by the U.S. government is rare, making Juneteenth only the 11th date acknowledged in history. The last holiday recognized was Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.

Over the years, legislation had been introduced multiple times to declare Juneteenth as a national holiday. Juneteenth was officially made a state holiday in Texas in 1980 and in 2020 in Virginia, New York, and New Jersey made the date a paid day of leave for state employees.