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After civil judgment in California state court, how long does it take a creditor to enforce a levy on the debtor's bank account?

Los Angeles, CA |

In the context of a civil lawsuit in California state court (LA County) about how long (in terms of number of days or weeks) does it take for a judgment-creditor to obtain and enforce a levy of a judgment-debtor's assets, namely their bank account?

Can the judgment-creditor simply take a copy of the court order, go to the judgment debtor's bank and demand that the bank withdraw funds?

Or is there a separate process that the judgment-creditor must take in order to obtain and enforce a levy? If so, how long does that process typically take? Including having the sheriff take the judgment etc.

Also, what about the time it takes the judgment-creditor to locate the judgment-debtor's bank account(s)? If the debtor never tells them which bank he uses, doesn't it take a while for the creditor to find that bank? Or is it instantly/easily learned by some sort of social security number search?

Attorney Answers 3

  1. It might take a week or two to get a levy. The judgment creditor would first have to get a writ of execution from the clerk after the court enters judgment. Once the clerk issues the writ, the judgment creditor takes it to the sheriff, which will then levy when it gets around to it, maybe a week later.

    Los Angeles may require that process servers actually serve the levy, which would speed things up.

  2. I agree with my colleague regarding the law. But it seems like the real question you are asking is how can I legally protect my assets from a garnishment? If that is your question, then I would suggest that you take all proper steps to secure your assets in a way that does not violate any laws. For example, if you know of a judgment, but there is no specific levy in place, then you can take steps to withdraw funds from your bank account before the levies come into place provided there is a reasonable business basis to do so. But be careful as to whatever you do as you cannot do anything without a reasonable basis for doing the same. As an aside, if you found my direction helpful, and if you feel appropriate; could you be so kind as to designate my answer as the “best” answer to your question? I truly wish you the best of luck!

  3. There is a process to levy a bank account.

    There are two answers to your question about how long it takes, the theoretical and practical.

    THEORETICAL An account can be levied the same day the judgment is entered. I have done this by having the levy papers drawn up already and having them issued when the judgment was entered. Then I handed the papers to a private process server who sped to the bank and served them. This ALMOST NEVER HAPPENS.

    PRACTICAL After the judgment creditor receives notice of the judgment in the mail, the judgment creditor will schedule a "debtor's exam" (which takes about a month) UNLESS the judgment creditor already knows where the bank account is (most credit card companies know where your account is because you paid them from it). After the debtor's exam, the judgment creditor can prepare the levy documents. If they don't care how long it takes, they file them with the Sheriff for service (which takes forever 4-6 weeks sometimes) or hire a private process server to serve them right away. From a practical point of view, bank levies rarely hit sooner than a month after judgment, and might be six months or a year later.

    All available funds in the account are frozen the day the levy is received by the bank. You will have a brief period to contest the levy, but only a few days. Don't miss the deadline.

    Another of your questions - how do judgment creditors find bank accounts and other assets - has two answers: judgment debtor exam OR hire an asset location service.

    Good luck.

    If you need further clarity, please email me at MICHAEL@MIRELAND.US Answers to questions are for general information purposes only and do not establish an attorney-client relationship. This is not legal advice, simply information. You SHOULD NOT act on this information without consulting a competent bankruptcy attorney in your area and providing ALL relevant information.

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