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.
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.
If the judgment debtor makes payments to you directly, you should notify the court when payments are completed.
Enforcing a Judgment
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.
The judgment debtor has ten days from the date of the judgment to pay. If the debtor fails to pay within those ten days, the judgment creditor may start collection proceedings through the sheriff.
If the losing party doesn't voluntarily pay or agree to pay the judgment awarded, the party winning the lawsuit will have to start collection procedures There are several steps you can take to try and collect the judgment:
- Hiring an attorney or collection agency to recover the money owed
If the defendant does not pay the judgment entered in your favor, you can ask the clerk to issue you an execution form that allows you to collect your judgment. You can then give the execution to a sheriff or constable who will make a demand for payment on the defendant.
A garnishment is a proceeding where the judgment creditor tries to obtain funds which are property of the judgment debtor but which are being held by a third party.
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?