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Richard, Attorney
Category: Legal
Satisfied Customers: 55699
Experience:  Attorney with 29 years of experience.
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I will try to make this short. My mother was given a dining

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I will try to make this short. My mother was given a dining room set by another person. Almost 5 years later this person decided they "lent" the set to her and they want it back. They went to court. Because the person had a receipt for just the table valued at $2,600 the judge ruled my mom pay the $2,600 or if the person would accept the set back that would satisfy the ruling. However, the judge said she could only rule to award the $2,600 and not the set. Long ugly story short neither of those things is going to happen. My mom doesn't work and has no assets or personal property valued at anything and no money in a bank account. When the person realize they were not getting anything, I assume she went back to court. However, my mom moved in with me (my father died recently) and the person was told the set was destroyed. She does not know where we live as neither of us left a forwarding address. This happened in Warren County NJ and we moved to Lehigh County PA, which is roughly 25 miles away. The person is saying my mother will be held in contempt of court if she does not pay the money. She said she will be arrested and held in county jail until the court costs, fines and the money she was ordered to pay is paid. I cannot see a county jail paying to feed and house my mom until she pays a personal debt off. The court costs were already paid by the person (it is included in the amount to be paid to her). The only thing would be if my mom was in fact held in contempt and had a fine to pay. I would like general legal advice on this matter please. Additionally, can my mom be held in contempt of court if she never received notification to appear in court? Thank you.
Welcome! My goal is to do my very best to understand your situation and to provide a full and complete answer for you.

Good morning. Who told the person the set was destroyed? How was this message delivered? Is the set destroyed? Thanks.
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

I am the guilty party of that lie, so no it is not. It was done in person when she showed up at my old house looking for my mom. Oh, and I forgot to mention before, that having a negative judgement on my mother's credit is not a concern to either of us. She is never going to apply for anything that would require good credit. She already has huge medical bills that alas will never be paid.

Thanks so much for your reply. If there is a monetary judgment, that's the only judgment that can be enforced. Since the judgment is not to retrieve the dining set, the person has no authority to retrieve that. And, getting a judgment and collecting a judgment are two different things. Since your mother has nothing, the judgment is simply going to be uncollectible. Your mother has no risk of going to jail; they cannot cause her to go to jail for being judgment proof. All they can do after getting the judgment is to require your mother to attend a debtor examination. That would force her to go to court and answer questions under oath about her assets. Since she has none, they will not be able to collect anything and that will be the end of it. They will not be able to take the dining room set because under NJ law, she can exempt a certain amount of personal property and household furnishings. Specifically, up to $1,000 in household goods and furnishings and up to $1,000 in any personal property are exempt. Given the age of the dining room set, the market value (that price at which you could sell it) of the dining room set would be under this limit.

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Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Thank you that was very helpful. Lastly, though can you give me more information on being held in contempt of court. As in can she be for any reason ie not showing up to a new court appearance because she didn't satisfy the debt. Also, what if she didn't receive notice? I ask this because her neighbor has been collecting her mail and there was a certified letter notification that needed to be signed for. She never signed or received it. I know ignoring an issue is not usually the solution but this situation came after my father was in rehabilitation for having a stroke and 2 months later he had a massive unexpected heart attack. The person decided apparently that this was the appropriate time to begin her quest for money since the first court hearing was schedule for 2 weeks after my father died. They were married 37 years. :-( Its been tough, she doesn't need anymore stress. Sorry to ramble.

You're welcome. If she did not receive notice, she cannot be held in contempt of court. Proper service is required in order to be required to show up at a hearing. She can contest any lack of appearing based upon improper service. The court in this situation is not going to hold her in contempt. The court will simply schedule another hearing for the debtor's exam and at that she can show she has nothing to get.
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Again thank you. XXXXX already know she is never going to sign for a certified letter so she will never receive a notice to appear for a debtors examination. It would probably be easier just to go and be done with it but as I said keeping my mother from additionaly stress right now is the best course of action. She was 16 when she was married, this is a very bad time for her. Now I realize this is an additional question so if additional money is required it's ok. The judge had stated at the hearing that awarding the property was for another court. So if the person decides to go to court, under these circumstances, I don't see how a court would award the set, since A. it has been so long and B. anyone that gives someone a gift could have retained the receipt. A receipt proves they purchased it, which btw she did not, her sister's girlfriend did. The person's sister gave it to her and the person gave it to my mom. The receipt doesn't prove what the person did with the set after they purchased it. The original complaint said stolen property. How do you steal a whole dining room set to include a hutch, 10 chairs etc. In any case if the court would rule to have the set returned that would mean every gift I have given I could ask for back if I have the receipt. I am by no means questioning your expertise but I see you practice in Texas, how sure are you about the NJ laws?

Thanks for following up. I did not address the original court's decision on the gift versus the loan because I was thinking you were asking about the issue of the judgment itself. And, I have provided information based on NJ law as I noted that you were in NJ. I do not think she will prevail in any suit to prove this was a loan versus a gift because of the time lapse and the fact that your mother is in possession. Under N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2a:14-1 et. seq., NJ has a 6 year statute of limitation on a loan so suit would have to be filed to prove this was a loan prior to the 6 year time period lapsing. But, given the facts, she should not prevail on proving this was a loan so you would never get to this issue.
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Customer: replied 4 years ago.

I am very satisfied with the answers. My mom was told by two different lawyers that there was no way the court would rule in favor of the person. And then they did. Oh, what about if she never receives the notice for a debtor's exam?

Thanks! She must be served in order to appear. But, I would recommend that if they are trying to serve her to accept service of process. Judges can get irritated if a person appears to be deliberately avoiding service. She has nothing to worry about in this debtor's exam...better to get it over with than to worry about it.
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Thank you again. I will discuss it with my mom. Have a great weekend!

You're very's my pleasure! You too!
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