Civil law allows courts to file judgments against defendants in certain kinds of cases. For all intents and purposes, a civil judgment is a recognition of a legal debt, whether that debt is direct or indirect. Once entered, a judgment gives the plaintiff a legal right to collect on the debt.
Debtors often go to great lengths to avoid paying judgments entered against them. They might refuse to be truthful about where they work and what they own in terms of assets. They may choose to hide their most valuable assets to prevent garnishments, levies, and lien. According to Salt Lake City’s Judgment Collectors, some debtors will even go so far as to flee the country.
Escaping to Canada, Mexico, or some other place is a pretty good strategy – albeit drastic – for someone desperate to avoid paying up. Even if a company like Judgment Collectors were to track down a debtor in another country, they would be limited in what they could do to recover payment.
Judgments and Local Jurisdictions
Collecting on unpaid judgments is tough enough in this country due to the fact that there are no federal statutes governing collection law. It is a matter left to the states. Furthermore, some states allow local jurisdictions to further regulate debt collection above and beyond what state law allows.
A similar situation exists in most other countries. Simply put, judgments are a matter of civil law rather than criminal law. As such, authority over collections is almost always given to local jurisdictions. Getting a local jurisdiction to help with foreign collection is nearly impossible.
Authority to Enter Judgments
Another problem creditors run into is linked to who has the authority to enter a judgment. Generally speaking, that authority goes to courts in the same jurisdiction in which the issue at hand took place. For example, a used car dealer in California might seek a judgment against a customer who stops making loan payments. A California court could enter that judgment. A New York Court could not.
The difficulty when pursuing debtors who have fled the country is that other jurisdictions may not recognize the authority of the original court. Let’s say the California debtor fled to Mexico City. A local court in Mexico City isn’t likely to recognize the judgment because California law doesn’t apply in Mexico.
Fewer Investigative Resources
Perhaps the biggest problem judgment collectors face is a lack of investigative resources outside the US. Here, skip tracing – the practice of using a variety of tools to track down deadbeats – is truly a science. Not so in some other countries. That makes it easier for debtors to flee the country and suddenly get lost somewhere else.
If a judgment collector gets lucky and manages to find a debtor, there is still the issue of contacting them and figuring out a way to compel payment. That is tough enough when debtors stay in the States. It is especially harder when they flee to foreign soil.
It is Not the Norm
While debtors are well known to move around between cities and states to avoid paying, fleeing to foreign soil is not the norm. At least that much is good. Most debt collection agencies with above average skip tracing skills can find debtors as long as they stay in the U.S. It’s when they cross the border that things get tricky.
If you were subject to a judgment that you absolutely refused to pay, one way out would be to flee to another country. But is it worth it? Only you could decide that.