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. It can be difficult or sometimes even impossible to enforce the judgment.
After judgment is entered, the plaintiff becomes the judgment creditor and the defendant becomes the judgment debtor. It's the duty of the judgment debtor to pay the judgment creditor right away.
If you don't receive payment after winning a judgment, you must take legal steps to try to enforce your judgment. The court can't force the losing party to pay.
A judgment is a money award ordered by a judge as part of a small claims case. The judgment doesn't provide for collection of the money owed but authorizes the winner to use legal means to enforce and collect the award from the debtor.
Subpoena the Debtor
If you don't know about the assets of the losing party, you can issue a subpoena to the debtor to appear in court to testify about the money and other assets that could be used to pay the claim.
If the debtor won't pay voluntarily, you can order a certified copy of the judgment, which provides you with official proof of the judgment. You'll need proof of the judgment to pursue any of the several methods of collection available, including:
- Placing a lien on the debtor's property
- Garnishing the employer or bank account of the debtor
- Hiring a collection agency to recover the money owed
Lien on Debtor's Property
If the debtor refuses to pay the judgment, the judgment creditor may enforce the judgment against the judgment debtor's non-exempt personal property by placing a lien on the debtor's property after the court issues a fieri facias, which is proof of the judgment. The lien gives the creditor the right to sell the debtor's property to collect the money award. Some property is exempt from judgment, such as the debtor's home.
If the debtor refuses to pay the judgment, the creditor may garnish the employer or bank account of the debtor in order to seize the debtor's wages or bank deposits. The garnishment process allows the creditor to collect installment payments on the debt owed.
The wages of a judgment debtor may be garnished but only to the extent of 25% of a debtor's disposable wages that week or the amount by which disposable wages for that week exceeds 30 times federal minimum hourly wage, whichever is less.
Attorney or Collection Agency
If the debtor refuses to pay the judgment, the creditor may hire an attorney or collection agency to recover the money owed. These services can be costly and are usually based on a percentage of the money collected from the debtor.
Assets in Another State
If the debtor has assets in another state and you want to have those assets levied or attached, you will have to order a triple certificate, which transfers the judgment to another jurisdiction. You'll receive the triple certificate in approximately ten business days. After you receive the triple certificate, you must take it to the court in the other state so you can file the necessary documents to collect the money.
Recording and Enforcement Period
All final judgments may become a lien on the real property of a judgment debtor for 12 years upon the filing and recording of the judgment at the Office of Recorder of Deeds.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can an attorney help me collect a judgment?
- How can I locate a debtor?
- Will the clerk of court help me to collect a judgment?