If you win in small claims court, the court will enter a judgment for a sum of money. The award then must be "enforced" or collected from the other party. You may need to take action and spend money to enforce the judgment. Sometimes it's difficult or even impossible to enforce the judgment.
Both sides will receive a "Notice of Judgment" from the court. The Notice of Judgment includes the judge or arbitrator's decision, as well as information about the location of the sheriff's office and ways to collect the judgment.
Request Payment from Debtor
The person awarded a judgment is called the judgment creditor, and the person who owes the amount awarded is called the judgment debtor. The first step is to contact the judgment debtor and request payment of the judgment amount. If the judgment debtor refuses to pay the judgment amount, you have several resources available.
If you win your claim, and the defendant doesn't pay, you'll have to try to collect the money you've won. How you do this depends on how much you know about the defendant's financial situation (pay from work, bank accounts, motor vehicles and other assets).
One resource is the "information subpoena" or you may need the assistance of a sheriff or city marshal. A money judgment is legally enforceable for 20 years. An "information subpoena" is a legal document tells a person, corporation or other business to answer questions about where assets can be found. An information subpoena may be sent to anyone you believe has knowledge about the defendant's assets, for example, the telephone or other utility company, an employer, a landlord or a bank.
Seizing Debtor's Property
An enforcement officer can seize a judgment debtor's assets to pay your judgment. The enforcement officer could be a sheriff who's employed by the county or a city marshal.
When you contact an enforcement officer, ask the officer to request an "execution" from the court. This allows the officer to seize property or money. Before the officer asks the court for an execution, the officer must know what assets the judgment debtor has and where they can be found.
You'll have to pay some fees for the enforcement officer's services. These fees can be added to the amount of the judgment to be paid by the judgment debtor to find him.
It's your responsibility to provide this information; the enforcement officer won't look for the judgment debtor's assets without your assistance. In Nassau and Suffolk Counties, instructions on how to enforce your judgment are included with the decision of the court.
An income execution orders the judgment debtor's employer to pay a certain amount of the debtor's wages to you until the full amount of the judgment is paid.
If you reach a settlement with the judgment debtor after you hire an enforcement officer, you won't recover the fees already paid, and, you'll pay enforcement officer 5% of the settlement amount. This happens even if you negotiate the settlement without any assistance from the enforcement officer.
Real estate can be sold to pay your judgment. The court clerk can tell you how to determine if the judgment debtor owns a particular piece of real estate. If the debtor owns property, you must get a "transcript of judgment" from the clerk and file it with the county clerk. Then contact the sheriff about selling the real estate to pay your judgment.
It's your responsibility to prepare the papers to sell the property. The sheriff will deduct fees and expenses from the proceeds of the sale, and pay any mortgage, tax liens or prior judgments owed before your judgment can be paid. The sheriff is the only enforcement officer who can take or sell real estate.
If a judgment debtor fails to pay three or more recorded judgments despite having sufficient resources to pay them, you may be able to sue the defendant for triple damages. Check with the small claims court clerk to find out if the judgment debtor is listed in the index of unsatisfied judgments maintained by the small claims court.
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?
- How much does the execution process cost, if I need help in enforcing a judgment?