Can Debtors be Arrested for Not Paying Their Debts?

 

Many debtors/clients inquire whether they can be arrested if they are unable to make payments on their debts.  Creditors sometimes threaten to come to their home and arrest them if they are unable to make their payments, even if they inform the creditor of their intent to file a bankruptcy.  Often, this threat is used to encourage payment and to frighten the debtor.  This information, however, is often incorrect and misstated.  Before a debtor can be arrested for a civil matter, such as a lawsuit for not paying a debt, there is a procedure that must be followed.  The arrest does not occur immediately.  The creditor must file a lawsuit against the debtor in the appropriate court and serve the debtor so the debtor is aware of the court proceeding and has an opportunity to appear.  The debtor can either choose to appear in court or not.  If the debtor doesn’t appear, the court will issue a default judgment in favor of the creditor.  The debtor can also enter into a consent judgment and agree to a payment plan or take the case to trial and let the judgment enter a judgment.  If a judgment is entered against the debtor and the debtor refuses to pay or is unable to pay, the creditor has the ability to freeze or levy the debtor’s bank account or garnish their employment up to 25 percent or 10 percent for head of household.  If the creditor is unable to garnish, the creditor can pursue a warrant for the debtor’s arrest.  This is a last resort and cannot be done without first having a judgment.

 

Therefore, the creditor cannot arrest a debtor at their home if they have not pursued a warrant through the proper court procedure. If a bankruptcy is filed, the creditor would be required to cease all contact with the debtor and would be unable to continue with pursuit of a lawsuit, judgment, or warrant against the debtor.

 

For more information, please contact a St. Louis or St. Charles bankruptcy attorney.