Your hard work and determination finally paid off. You won the case you filed in the Oklahoma small claims court! The judge agreed with you and found that the defendant owes you money, or he has to return your personal property to you.
However, just because you won doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get paid or get your property. If you're lucky, the defendant will voluntarily pay you or return the property. Unfortunately, this always doesn't happen. Often, the defendant tries to avoid or even ignores the court's judgment. You have some options when this happens, however, such as:
- Getting an writ of execution against the defendant's personal property
- Garnishing the defendant's wages
- Getting an order of delivery of your property
- Having a lien placed against the defendant's real property
The Names Have Changed
When the suit was filed in the small claims court, you were called the "plaintiff," the person who filed the suit, and the person you sued was called the "defendant." Now that the case is over and you've won, you're now known as the judgment creditor and the defendant is called the judgment debtor.
After the judge decides the case and the clerk enters the judgment, the first thing you should do is talk to the defendant. See if she can pay you immediately, or try to arrange a payment schedule. If the defendant doesn't pay you, there are a few ways that the court can help you collect on the judgment.
Writ of Execution
A writ of execution, also known as "executing judgment," is when you take (or "levy" or "attach") some of the defendant-debtor's property or assets to pay what he owes. You need file an application for the writ, and you have to be able to specify what you want levied and where it's located. Once the court grants the writ:
- It has to be delivered to (or "served on") the defendant, which usually is done by the sheriff of the county where the defendant lives or where the property is located
- Once the sheriff delivers it to the defendant, he may take or "seize" the items listed in the writ
- Unless the defendant claims that the property is "exempt" (meaning that the property is protected by law and can't be seized to pay your judgment), the deputy will either give the money to you directly or sell the property and give you the sales proceeds
With a writ of execution you can usually get to the debtor's:
- Money in bank accounts
- Personal property, like jewelry or art
- Motor vehicles
Exempt property or money that can't be reached through the writ includes the defendant-debtor's homestead real estate, that is, his house; money he receives from public assistance programs, such as worker's compensation, unemployment, and Social Security benefits; and alimony he receives.
The court clerk can give you the forms you need to request the writ, as well as a list of property that can't be attached. And he can tell you the current fees for requesting an order of attachment and having it served on the defendant. The fees you pay, however, will be added to the amount owed by the defendant.
This is when you arrange for money to be taken directly out of the defendant's paycheck and paid to you. To do this, you have to file an Affidavit for Continuing Garnishment. Once you receive an Order for Wage Garnishment, you have to arrange for it to be delivered to the defendant and to his employer by the sheriff. The employer will then withhold a portion of the defendant's weekly paycheck, usually no more than 25% of his net earnings or pay, and then pay it to you.
Again, you have to pay fees to the clerk and to the sheriff to garnish wages, and they'll be added to the amount the defendant already owes you.
Order of Delivery
If the judgment orders the defendant to return your personal property and she refuses to do so, you can ask the court for an "Order of Delivery," which essentially allows the sheriff to forcibly take possession of the property from the defendant and return it to you. If the defendant no longer has the property, the court will order him to pay you the value of the property.
The court clerk can give you the forms you need to get an Order of Delivery and tell you the fees associated with one.
Lien on Real Property
This will prevent the debtor from selling his real property or even refinancing it without having to pay you. To make this work, you need to prepare a (or ask the court clerk to do it) a Statement of Judgment and file it with the county clerk of each county where the debtor owns real property. There are fees for filing the Statement of Judgment with the county clerk, so you may want to contact the clerk's office before you actually file it.
It's your responsibility to get information about where the debtor works and where his property and bank accounts are located. Without it you can't ask the court for an order of seizure or garnishment or get a lien on his property. If you don't know this information, you can send the debtor written questions asking about his assets. If that doesn't work, you can ask the court to order the defendant to come to court and answer questions about his assets. The court clerk can tell you how to go about doing this and the fees involved.
If all of this sounds difficult, time-consuming, and a bit expensive, that's because it is. Collecting on the judgment very well may be the hardest thing about your small claims case. That's why many successful small claims litigants ask an experienced attorney for help in getting a judgment debtor to pay.
Questions for Your Attorney
- How much will charge to help me collect on a judgment?
- Not long after the small claims court entered a judgment in my favor, the defendant-debtor moved and now I can't find him. What can I do?
- Is there anything I can do if a debtor sells his house before I can get my lien recorded?