Congratulations! Your hard work and determination finally paid off. You won the case you filed in the Connecticut small claims court. The magistrate agreed with you, and the defendant's been ordered to pay you.
However, just because you won doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get paid. If you're lucky, the defendant will voluntarily pay you the amount listed in the judgment. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen in every case. Often, the defendant tries to avoid paying all or part of the judgment. You have some options when this happens, however, such as:
- Getting a writ of execution against the defendant's wages, personal property and bank accounts
- Having a lien placed against the defendant's real property
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 magistrate decides the case and the clerk enters the judgment into the court records, the first thing you should do is talk to the defendant. See if she can pay you immediately, or try to arrange a payment schedule.
If the defendant is an individual, the magistrate may order the defendant to pay you periodically, over time, until the judgment is paid. This is called an order for periodic payments. Usually, the defendant will be ordered to pay you weekly, and the court will specify the amount of each payment , as well as when payments are supposed to begin. If the defendant-debtor can't afford the periodic payment set by the court, she may request that the court lower the payments, but she needs to explain and prove her financial situation to the court.
If your judgment is against a corporation, the judgment will be for the full amount. In other words, The court won't order periodic payments.
If the defendant-debtor refused to pay you, there are a few things you can do, with the courts help, to get paid:
Writ of Execution
In Connecticut, there are three separate types of executions:
- Wage execution, which orders the defendant's employer to withhold a portion of the defendant's weekly paycheck, usually no more than 25% of his net pay, and to pay it to you. You have to know the name and address of the defendant's employer, and you can't use this collection method if the defendant is self-employed
- Property execution lets you take some of the defendant-debtor's personal property, like cars, boats, tools, etc., and have it sold to pay your judgment
- Financial institution execution lets you take money out of the defendant's bank accounts
Generally, the steps you need to take to get an execution, regardless of which one you use, involves:
- Requesting that the magistrate make an order of periodic payment, if she hasn't done so already
- Completing the appropriate form for the type of execution you want to pursue, filing it with the clerk of the court that gave you the judgment, and paying a fee (the clerk can tell you the current fee)
- Arranging for the execution to be delivered to, or "served on," the defendant (and his employer and/or banks, depending on the execution) by a state marshal or another court-approved officer, such as a city sheriff, constable or borough bailiff. You need to be able to tell the marshal where the defendant's property or money is located
Depending on the type of execution, the marshal will take or seize the items listed in the execution and turn it over to you, if it's money, or sell it and give you the sale proceeds.
Some money and property is exempt, meaning it's protected by law and you can't have it seized to pay for your judgment. Exempt property or money includes the defendant-debtor's homestead real estate (his house), and money he receives from public assistance programs, such as worker's compensation, unemployment, and Social Security benefits.
Lien on Real Property
This will prevent the debtor from selling his real property or even refinancing it without having to pay you. To make this work, you need to fill out and sign a "judgment lien certificate" and file it (or "record" it) in the town clerk's office in the town where the real property is located. You should file one of these certificates in any town in which the defendant has real property. Once a certificate is filed, you have a lien on the property.
It's your responsibility to get information about where the defendant works and where his property and bank accounts are located. Without it you can't ask the court for any type of execution, and you can't place a lien on his property. If you don't know this information, you can send the defendant-debtor a set of written questions, called interrogatories, about where his property, money, and assets are located and where he works. If the defendant doesn't answer them within 30 days, you may file a Petition for Examination of Judgment Debtor. The defendant will be ordered to appear in court and answer questions, under oath, about his property, assets and job.
There are fees for filing this petition and for having it served on the defendant. The court clerk can tell you about these fees.
Satisfaction of Judgment
Once the defendant has paid you in full, you have to sign and file a "Satisfaction of Judgment" form with the court clerk. By doing so, you agree that the defendant has paid you and that he no longer owes you anything. The clerk can give you a copy of this form.
If all of this sounds difficult, time-consuming, and a bit expensive, that's because it is. Collecting on the judgment very well may be the hardest thing about your small claims case. That's why many successful small claims litigants ask an experienced attorney for help in getting a judgment debtor to pay.
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?