A judgment is a pronouncement by a judge that a debt is actually owed. Once the judge makes this ruling, the person to whom the debt is owed can use the power of the state to collect the debt. This means that the person who obtained the judgment can collect the debt by force.
Different states have different laws relating to the extent that people can collect debts by force. These laws are primarily known as Exemption Laws. Exemption Laws list property that creditors with judgments cannot take from debtors. For instance, in Texas a judgment creditor cannot take a homestead and generally cannot take the contents of a homestead, nor can the creditor take a car owned by a member of the family. The law permits one car per member of the family. However, other assets can be taken, such as cash, accounts and stocks and bonds or properties that are not homestead. The creditor cannot take retirement funds or annuities. However, unscrupulous lawyers will try to take exempt property, and they will do so by filing long motions the end of which is to obtain a judgment that exempt property is not exempt. They can obtain these judgments when the debtor cannot afford an attorney to defend himself after a judgment has been rendered against him.
A lawsuit is a request by a creditor for a judge to enter a judgment against a debtor. If the debtor does not respond in time to the lawsuit, then the creditor can obtain what is called a default judgment. A default judgment is a judgment that is issued more or less automatically when the debtor fails to oppose the papers that have been filed by the creditor.
A bankruptcy stopps judgments, the collection of judgments and lawsuits that try to obtain them.