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 creditor and the defendant becomes the judgment debtor.
Usually, the person you sued will simply pay you after you win. If you do not receive payment, you must take legal steps to try to enforce your judgment. The court cannot 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 does not provide for collection of the money owed but authorizes the "winner" to use legal means to enforce and collect the award from the debtor.
If the judgment is in your favor, it is the duty of the other party to pay right away. The small claims court does not collect the judgment for you. But if the judgment is not appealed or paid within 30 days, you can start trying to collect the judgment. You can try to collect by garnishing wages or bank accounts. Also, you may need to locate the debtor's personal property.
If the debtor is unable to make full payment immediately, the creditor may ask the court to order a payment plan. The creditor must pay the clerical and accounting costs of such payment plan but the costs should not be more than 10% of each payment. If the debtor will not pay voluntarily, there are 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 creditor may place a lien on the debtor's property, giving the creditor the right to sell the debtor's property to collect the money award. The clerk of the court, when asked by the creditor, can place a lien on the debtor's property. A small fee is charged to place the lien on property.
The court will issue a fieri facias (fifa), which is proof of your judgment. The fifa places a lien against the losing party and any property he or she owns. You may have the fifa recorded in any county in Georgia. If you need to record the fifa outside the State of Georgia, you should contact an attorney for assistance.
You may also levy against real and personal property through the sheriff's office. The sheriff will require the fifa to levy against any personal property. You should also contact the sheriff's office to find out the cost and to make an appointment.
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 creditor must file a separate garnishment action and pay a filing fee.
If you do not know the name of the debtor's bank or the location of other assets, you can file a post-judgment interrogatory; it's used to ask the debtor about his assets. You will need to mail the form, which you can get from the clerk of the magistrate court, to the debtor. The debtor must respond within 30 days.
It is very possible that the debtor will close a bank account when advised of a pending garnishment and then you would need to obtain information about any new account.
Garnishments filed against wages are filed in the county where the debtor is employed. Garnishments filed against a bank account should be filed in the county where the bank is located.
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.
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?