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What is an enforcement?

The word scares many people. But what does enforcement actually mean? Enforcement refers to the state procedure by which a creditor can forcibly enforce his civil law claim against a debtor. This situation may arise if a consumer has not fulfilled a payment obligation even after receiving a reminder and the creditor or a representative appointed by him obtains an enforceable title from the court. Then the creditor has various state resources at his disposal to compulsorily enforce the claim.

Editorial Team Germany | May 1, 2023 3 min

What does enforcement mean for the debtor?

In general, it is always advantageous not to let it come to an enforcement measure at all. The negative consequences can be very unpleasant. The final consequence can be the submission of a statement of assets, formerly also referred to as an "affidavit" or colloquially as an "oath of disclosure" - this leads to an entry in the public debtors' register.

The entry in the public debtors' register can make economic activities that require a certain creditworthiness considerably more difficult.

The judicial dunning procedure.

Enforcement measures by the bailiff?

Enforcement can only be carried out by a state enforcement body, such as a bailiff. Bailiffs have the status of an independent organ of the administration of justice. They are assigned to a district court but have their own office. With an enforcement order, such as a writ of execution or a court judgment, the bailiff can carry out enforcement if the debtor does not pay the titled claim after all. In doing so, enforcement can be carried out against the assets of the person concerned. 
The two most well-known enforcement measures are attachment of assets and attachment of claims. These concern movable properties.

Attachment of assets

If valuables such as jewellery or antiques are present, they can be seized. In such a case, the bailiff takes movable items or marks them with a pledge seal, the infamous "cuckoo". Subsequently, these very items are foreclosed upon.
The proceeds are then used to settle the creditor's claim in whole or in part. Items that contribute to securing one's livelihood may not be seized and auctioned. This applies, for example, to modest clothing and ordinary household effects, as well as to everything that is absolutely necessary for the exercise of professional activities.

Our tip

If you have payment difficulties, it is best to contact the creditor or their representative, such as a debt collection agency or a lawyer, directly. Do not let things slide. If you do not react, the creditor often has no choice but to have the debt titled in court and then to initiate enforcement measures. 

Attachment of claims

In the so-called attachment of claims, no physical valuables are attached. It is about the creditor's access to monetary claims that the debtor has against third parties, such as salary claims against the employer.

In the case of salary garnishment, the enforcement court decides on the application of the creditor to carry out the garnishment and transfer of the salary. This obliges the employer not to pay the attachable part of the salary to his employee but directly to his creditor until the claim is settled.


Please understand that for reasons of readability we only use the grammatically masculine form when referring to persons. This always refers to people of any gender identity.