Don't think the small claims process is over just because you filed a claim, went to trial and won a court judgment. You may need to take action and spend money to enforce the judgment. Sometimes it's difficult or even impossible to enforce the judgment.
Collecting a court judgment can be one of the most challenging and frustrating aspects of any lawsuit. The person who is obligated to pay the judgment, called the debtor, may not have the money to pay it or may simply refuse to pay it.
Enforcement procedures are available, but these require extra effort and also money on your part. You must collect the money yourself; the court will not collect the money for you. But the court will issue the orders and other documents required to force the debtor to pay. Not all judgments are collectible because the debtor may not have any income or property of value.
Enforcement of the judgment is put off until the time for appeal expires, which is 30 days after entry of judgment. If an appeal hearing is held, the judgment can be enforced after the superior court's judgment is sent back to the small claims court, usually within ten days.
Time to Collect
Judgments are enforceable for ten years and are renewable for another ten years and then renewable after that. When the judgment is renewed, the interest that has accrued will be added to the principal amount owing. From that point on you're entitled to interest on the accrued interest.
When Debtor Doesn't Appeal Original Judgment
A debtor that fails to appeal or file a motion to vacate the judgment and doesn't voluntarily pay the judgment must fill out a Judgment Debtor's Statement of Assets, form SC-133, and send it to the person who won the small claims case. You may need to do a debtor's examination if the debtor did not deliver the SC-133.
Form SC-134 (Application and Order to Produce Statement of Assets and to Appear for Examination) and form SC-133 (Judgment Debtor's Statement of Assets) are needed to do a debtor's examination. Then the court will give you a hearing date where you can ask the debtor:
- What type of property they own
- Where that property is located
- Whether or not the debtor has a job
Recovering Out-of-Pocket Costs
A creditor can recover the following out-of-pocket costs from the debtor:
- Court clerk fees for issuing a writ of execution or abstract of judgment
- County recorder fees for recording and indexing an abstract of judgment
- Statutory fees for the sheriff/marshal
- Costs associated with a debtor's examination
To recover costs of collection, a debtor must file with the court a Memorandum of Costs After Judgment, Acknowledgment of Credit, and Declaration of Accrued Interest, form MC-012, within 2 years of incurring the costs.
Debtor May Request to Make Payments in Installments
The debtor may ask the court to let them pay the judgment in installments. The request in made using form SC-106, Request to Pay Judgment in Installments. The court clerk will mail a copy of the request to you and you then have ten days to tell the court one of the following:
- You'll accept the proposed payment schedule
- You'll accept payments in a different amount
- You don't want to accept installment payments
Debtor May Pay Judgment Directly to Court
A debtor can pay the judgment directly to the court. Generally this is done so that the debtor can immediately get proof of payment from the court in order to clear their credit record. To pay the judgment to the court, the debtor must pay:
- The principal amount of the judgment
- Costs after judgment
- Interest accrued on the judgment
- The court's processing fee
Creditor's Request for Funds
If the court notifies you that the judgment has been paid, you will need to complete the Judgment Creditor's Request for Funds, which is a portion of form SC-145.
Visit the Fill Out Your Forms section of the California Courts Self-Help Center to get the right forms.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can an attorney assist me in collecting a judgment?
- How can I locate a debtor?
- What can I do if the debtor has no income but does have assets and refuses to pay?