You have until the plaintiff gets tired of not being paid and brings you in for post-judgment collection action, which can include wage garnishment, attachment of assets, an order by the court for periodic payments and various other devices.
This answer is provided for informational purposes only. Actual legal advice can only be provided in an office consultation by an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction, with experience in the area of law in which your concern lies.
The party who wins a lawsuit can collect (or “execute”) on the judgment awarded. He or she can ask a county sheriff to seize the losing party’s property and sell it or to levy on the losing party’s bank account. North Carolina law, however, allows each losing party (known as a “judgment debtor”) to keep a certain amount of money and property safe from judgment collection.
There is no set time by which the judgment debtor must pay on a judgment. The winning party cannot collect, though, until he or she has sent the judgment debtor notice of the right to designate safe (or "exempt") property. Upon receipt of the notice, the judgment debtor has twenty (20) days to respond.
North Carolina’s safe amounts, or “exemptions,” include the following:
1. $35,000 in equity in a residence (or $60,000 if the residence was owned with a now-deceased spouse);
2. To the extent that you do not use the $35,000 residence exemption, then up to $5,000 in equity in any property of whatever type;
3. $3,500 in equity in any one vehicle;
4. $5,000 in equity in household goods, plus $1,000 household goods for each dependent, up to a maximum additional amount of $4,000;
5. $2,000 in equity in tools or equipment that are used in a business or trade;
6. Health-related items, such as hospital beds, scooters, and the like;
7. Certain investment property, including certain life insurance policies, certain retirement plans, and certain college savings plans;
8. Money that comes from personal injury settlements, alimony, child support, TANF/Workfirst, workers’ compensation benefits, and sixty (60) days worth of your wages or earnings used to support the family.
In addition, federal law protects money that comes from Social Security, SSI, and Veterans’ Benefits.
When only one spouse is a judgment debtor, but both are owners of the residence, the residence may be entirely exempt. The judgment debtor should have an attorney review the deed to the residence to provide an opinion on whether the residence owned by a judgment debt or and his or her spouse is entirely exempt.
When only one spouse is a judgment debtor, but both are co-owners of personal property, such as a vehicle, the judgment creditor may only execute on the non-exempt equity that the judgment debtor holds in the personal property.
For more information, review the exempt property laws at http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/EnactedLegislation/Statutes/HTML/ByArticle/Chapter_1C/Article_16.html .
(This response does not constitute legal advice and does not create an attorney/ client relationship. The response is in the form of legal education and is intended to provide general information about the matter in question. Many times the questioner may leave out details which would make the reply unsuitable. The questioner should confer with an attorney about the specifics of their case.)