If you win the case, ask the court to include court costs and any money you spent as part of the judgment. The court can require reimbursement for such fees as:
- The money paid to file the action
- The cost to have the summons and complaint mailed or personally served
- Any attorneys' fees
The court can award you a judgment but enforcing the judgment is your responsibility. If the losing party doesn't pay the judgment within 30 days, the winning party may begin legal collection proceedings.
If you decide to begin collection proceedings to enforce your judgment on your own, you can ask the small claim clerk for the list of enforcement methods called the "Common Collection Sheet." Collection procedures can be complex so you may want to consider retaining an attorney.
A judgment will be entered in court stating what the opposing party owes you. The winning person or business is known as the creditor and the losing person or business is known as the debtor after a judgment is entered.
Sometimes the debtor will pay the judgment immediately. Other times you may find it necessary to take further informal action or consult an attorney who can proceed with more formal legal steps to collect the debt.
The court will order the debtor to provide a disclosure statement to you or to the clerk of the court within 15 days after entry of the judgment. The statement must contain the debtor's:
- Name and address
- Employer and the employer's address
- Real property owned by the debtor
- Cash on hand
- Financial institutions in which the debtor has funds
If you are unable to satisfy the judgment by contacting the debtor, contact the clerk of the court that heard your case. From the clerk, you can obtain the forms necessary for garnishment proceedings if the other party receives wages or has bank accounts.
Collection proceedings may be by a wage deduction summons if you know where the debtor is employed or by a non-wage garnishment summons if you know where the debtor has a bank account.
The parties to whom you direct either type of summons must file a sworn answer. After this is filed with the court clerk, you must appear in court and the court will then enter a judgment against the garnishee for the amount shown in the sworn return and give you a turn over order. A certified copy of this order should be sent to the garnishee.
If you don't know where the debtor works, has bank accounts or owns property, you should have the clerk issue a citation to discover assets. This requires the debtor to appear in court and answer questions under oath. The questions are about employment, bank accounts, other sources of income and property owned.
Release and Satisfaction of Judgment
Once a judgment has been collected, a form called a release and satisfaction of judgment should be given by you to the debtor for filing with the circuit court clerk.
For a fee or for a percentage of what they will collect, a private collection agency can collect your debt for you. If a person doesn't have the financial ability to pay a debt that they owe you and if the debtor's income and or assets are exempt, a collection agency won't be able to get the money.
Enforcement of Money Judgment by a Judge
A judge can order a debtor to make payments on a money judgment either in full or in installments from any non-exempt assets or income that the debtor may have. A judge can't put a debtor in jail just because the debtor can't pay a debt nor can the judge fine a debtor for nonpayment of a debt when the debtor has only exempt assets or income. A judge, however, can hold a debtor in contempt if the debtor fails to comply with a payment order when the debtor has the ability to pay or if the debtor fails to show up to a court-ordered hearing like a citation to discover assets hearing.
Debtor's Exempt Property and Income
A debtor has the right to keep certain property and income, and it can't be taken from the debtor to pay a debt unless the debt is for such things as child support, criminal fines and taxes. This property and income is called exempt property and the debtor's right to this property and income is called the debtor's exemption rights.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can an attorney help me collect a judgment?
- How can I locate a debtor?
- Will the clerk of circuit court help me to collect a judgment?