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. Sometimes it's difficult or even impossible to enforce the judgment.
Collecting a court judgment can be one of the most challenging and frustrating aspects of any lawsuit. The person who is obligated to pay the judgment, called the debtor, may not have the money to pay it or may simply refuse to pay it.
Usually, the person you sued will simply pay you after you win. If you don't receive payment, you must take legal steps to try to enforce 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.
If the judgment is in your favor, it is the duty of the other party to pay immediately. The court doesn't collect the judgment for you. If your judgment is not appealed or paid, usually within 30 days, you can start trying to collect the judgment.
Abstract of Judgment
There are a number of legal devices that you should consider after you have won in small claims court. The first thing you should do is file an "abstract of judgment." This is the device that makes your judgment public record and gives it legal effect. It also gives you a "lien" on any "non-exempt" real estate the person owns in the county you filed in. In Texas, a person's homestead is exempt. If they own any other property, for example, rental property, your abstract of judgment gives you a lien on that property and you can force its sale to satisfy your judgment.
Writ of Garnishment
If the person doesn't own any non-exempt real estate, however, your abstract of judgment won't help you. Therefore, you should consider a "writ of garnishment." This device allows you to obtain money that is owed to you from the person you sued.
The most common type of money that a writ of garnishment is used for is a bank account. If you know where the person you sued banks, you can go back to the clerk of the court and obtain a writ of garnishment to force the bank to turn over the money in the account to you.
Writ of Execution
Texas law also allows you to obtain what is called a "writ of execution." This device orders the constable to take the debtor's "non-exempt" personal property and sell it to pay your judgment. In Texas, much of what the average person owns is "exempt.' Exempt property includes most personal property. If you sued a business, however, its property may not be "exempt."
Another option is a device called a "turn-over order." This permits the judge to order the person to turn over non-exempt property to you to satisfy the judgment.
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?
Related Resources on Lawyers.comsm
- Start the process with our Texas Small Claims Worksheet
- Next in the Small Claims series: Alternatives to Small Claims Court in Texas
- Success In Small Claims Court
- Small Claims Court Terms
- Defending a Small Claims Court Case
- Visit our Small Claims Court Forum for more help