Your hard work and determination paid off. You won the case you filed in the Alaska small claims court! The judge agreed with you, and the defendant's been ordered to pay you or to turn over some personal property that rightfully belongs to you. You're to be congratulated.
However, just because you won doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get paid or get your property back. If you're lucky, the defendant will voluntarily pay you or turn over the property. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen all the time. It's common for a defendant to ignore the court's decision (called a "judgment"). You have some options when this happens, however, such as:
- Garnishing the defendant's wages
- Getting a writ of executionagainst some of the defendant's personal and real property
- Getting a writ of execution to get back specific personal property
- Getting a writ of execution against the defendant's Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend
- Having a lien placed against the defendant's real estate
All of these collection tactics are complicated and require you to file numerous forms. It's a good idea to get some help from an experienced attorney when trying to collect on judgment.
The Names Have Changed
When the suit was filed in the small claims court, you were called the "plaintiff," the person who filed the suit, and the person you sued was called the "defendant." Now that the case is over and you've won, you're now known as the judgment creditor and the defendant is called the judgment debtor.
After the judge decides the case and the clerk enters the judgment in the small claims court, the first thing you should do is talk to the debtor. See if she can pay you immediately, or try to arrange a payment schedule. If you agree to a payment schedule, you and the debtor need to file a form called a Stipulation to Pay Judgment in Installments with the clerk of the court that decided the small claims case.
If the debtor doesn't pay you as agreed, or if there's no agreement and he simply refuses to pay or return your property, there are a few ways that the court can help you collect on the judgment.
This is when you arrange for money to be taken directly out of the debtor's paycheck and paid to you. To do this, you have to:
- Complete and file a Writ of Execution for Garnishment of Wages with the district court clerk
- Arrange for the Writ and other papers to be delivered to (or "served on") the debtor and his employer. This may be done by certified mail or by a process server
Once this Writ has been served, the 'debtor's employer will begin withholding some of the defendant-debtor's wages, usually no more than 25% of his net weekly wages. The employer will pay the money to the court and the court will then turn it over to you.
You have to pay fees when asking for this Writ and for having it served on the debtor and his employer. The court clerk can tell you the current fee amounts and help you with the process of having the papers served.
Writ of Execution
Also know as "executing judgment," this is when you take (or "levy") some of the debtor's property or assets to pay what he owes. To get this Writ, you have to complete and file a Writ of Execution and arrange and pay for it to be served on the debtor (or the person who's holding the property). This has to be done by a process server or a peace officer. You have to be able to specify exactly what property you want to be seized and where it's located. Once the Writ is delivered to the debtor:
- The process server or officer will take the items listed in the Writ. If cash is seized, it will be delivered to the small claims court. If it's personal property, like a car or jewelry, it will be stored
- Unless the debtor files a "claim of exemption" (meaning that an asset can't be taken because it's protected by law), the process server or officer will deposit the money with the court, or sell the property and deposit the sale proceeds with the court, and the court will then pay you
With a writ of execution, you can usually get to the debtor's:
- Money in bank accounts
- Personal property, like jewelry or art
- Motor vehicles
- Certain real estate, like vacation and rental property
Exempt property or money that can't be reached through the writ includes the debtor's homestead real estate; household goods and clothing, up to certain amounts; and money he receives from public assistance programs, such as worker's compensation, unemployment and Social Security benefits.
Specific Personal Property
If the judgment orders the defendant to turn over or return to you specific personal property, such as equipment or furniture, then you may ask for a Writ of Execution for Delivery of Specific Personal Property Listed in Judgment. You need to list and describe the property exactly as it's listed in the judgment from the small claims court. You need to pay for and arrange for the Writ to be served on the defendant (or other person holding the property) by a process server or by certified mail. Once it's served, the process server or peace officer will take the property from the defendant and return it to you.
The court clerk can give you the forms you need to get this Writ and can tell you the current fee amounts.
Lien on Real Property
A lien on the debtor's real property will prevent him from selling his real property or even refinancing it without having to pay you. To make this work, you need to file or "record" a certified copy of the small claims judgment with the District Recorder in any district where the defendant-debtor owns land. The district court clerk can tell you the fees for purchasing a certified copy of your judgment and for filing it with a Recorder.
Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD)
You can intercept the payment of the debtor's PFD. To do this, you need to complete and file a writ of execution, and arrange for it to be delivered to the Alaska Department of Revenue (DOR). This may be done by certified mail or a process server. If the debtor's PFD is intercepted, the DOR will pay the money to the court, and then the court will pay it over to you.
It's your responsibility to get information about where the defendant-debtor works and where his property and bank accounts are located. Without it you can't ask the court for an order of seizure or garnishment and you can't put a lien against his land. If you don't know this information, you can ask the court for an Order to Appear. If the judge grants it, the defendant-debtor will be ordered to appear in court and answer questions about his property and assets.
There are fees for filing a request for this Order and for having it served on the defendant. The court clerk can tell you about these fees.
Satisfaction of Judgment
Once the defendant debtor has paid the judgment, you must file a Satisfaction of Judgment with the small claims court. This needs to be done within 10 days after payment. Also, if the judgment has been paid in full, the defendant may ask that you file a Satisfaction of Judgment. If you don't do so within 30 days without a good reason, you may have to pay the defendant $100 and any other damages he suffers because of your failure to file it.
Questions for Your Attorney
- How much will you charge to help me collect on a judgment?
- Not long after the small claims court entered a judgment in my favor, the defendant moved and now I can't find him. What can I do?
- Is there anything I can do if a debtor sells his house before I can get my lien recorded?