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. The collection process can be time consuming and there is no guarantee that the debtor will pay you the amount owed.
After judgment is entered, the plaintiff becomes the judgment creditor and the defendant becomes the judgment debtor.
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.
If the debtor isn't willing to pay the debt or work out a payment plan, you will have to complete and file more forms with the court, pay the required filing fees and appear in court for additional hearings. The additional filing fees are automatically added to the amount of your judgment.
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.
In Maryland, a judgment is valid for only 12 years. If you haven't been able to collect your judgment within that time, you'll have to renew the judgment to continue your collection efforts. You can renew the judgment by completing a notice to renew judgment form. The renewal form must be filed with the court and it must be completed while your judgment is still valid.
Location of Debtor's Assets
The court may order the debtor to appear in court to answer the creditor's questions regarding location of assets. This procedure can't be used until after 30 days from the date of the judgment. The creditor may also use interrogatories to learn about assets. Interrogatories are written questions from one party to another party.
If the debtor won't pay voluntarily, you should ask about the following procedures, which you must initiate and which may involve the payment of a fee:
- Placing a lien on the debtor's property
- Garnishing the debtor's bank accounts or wages
- Hiring a collection agency to recover the money owed
Lien on Debtor's Property
If you ask the court to levy on real estate, you must request that the clerk file a lien in the circuit court of any Maryland county. The lien gives the creditor the right to sell the debtor's property to collect the money award. After doing this, the creditor may ask the court to order the sale of the land.
The lien attaches whether the land is sold voluntarily or as the result of a court order. Certain goods may not be seized because they are exempt or protected from creditors' claims. In addition, in certain sales the defendant receives the first $100.
If the debtor refuses to pay the judgment, you may ask the court to seize money in the debtor's bank accounts. The debtor may choose to exempt $3,000 but must tell the court within 30 days of the day the writ of garnishment is served.
You may ask the court to garnish wages of the debtor if the debtor is employed. The garnishment may be served by registered mail or by the sheriff, constable or private process server. After it is served, the lien or claim against the garnishable wages continues until the judgment is paid in full. A certain amount of the defendant's wages are exempt from garnishment.
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.
Order of Satisfaction
Once your judgment has been paid in full, you must file an order of satisfaction form with the court. After the clerk processes the order, each of the courts in which the judgment was recorded will be notified that the judgment has been paid in full.
Failing to file this form can cost you money. If you fail to file the order and the debtor files a motion for order declaring the judgment satisfied, the court can order that you reimburse the debtor for any costs incurred. It's important because it serves as notice in the public records that the judgment's been paid ¿ this information is often included in credit reports.
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?