Your hard work and determination finally paid off. You won the case you filed in the Utah small claims court! The judge agreed with you, and the defendant's been ordered to pay you. You're to be congratulated.
However, just because you won doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get paid. If you're lucky, the defendant will voluntarily pay you the amount listed in the judgment. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen in every case. Often, the defendant tries to avoid payment all or part of the judgment. You have some options when this happens, however, such as:
- Getting a writ of execution
- Garnishing the defendant's wages
- 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 debtor-defendant. See if she can pay you immediately, or try to arrange a payment schedule. If the defendant doesn't pay you, the court can help you collect on the judgment.
Writ of Execution
Also know as "executing judgment," this is when you take (or "levy") some of the debtor's property or assets to pay what he owes. You need to file an "Application for a Writ of Execution" with the clerk of the district or justice court that decided the case. You need to specify or list what property you want to have seized and where it's located. Once you've been granted a writ:
- You have to take it to a sheriff, constable or a process server and provide information on where the property or assets can be found
- The constable or deputy must deliver it to (or "serve") the defendant. Then he may take the items listed in the writ
- Unless the defendant files a "claim of exemption" (meaning that the asset can't be seized because it's protected by law), the constable or 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 cars and jewelry
- Real property
Exempt property or money that can't be reached through the writ includes the debtor's homestead real estate (his house), and money he receives from public assistance programs, such as worker's compensation, unemployment and Social Security benefits.
You have to pay a fee when you file the application for the writ and when it's served. The court clerk can give you the necessary forms and tell you the current fee amount.
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:
- Complete an Application and Order for Wage Garnishment, which is available at the clerk-judge's office. This form tells the debtor's employer to withhold some of the debtor's wages, which usually can't be more than 25% of his weekly pay, and to pay it to you
- Once the application is granted, you have to arrange for it to be delivered to the defendant's employer by a constable or deputy sheriff
Again, there are fees for applying for and serving this writ, which court clerk can help you with.
Lien on Real Property
This will prevent the debtor from selling, mortgaging, or even refinancing his real property in Utah without having to pay you first. To make this work, you need to get an "Abstract of Judgment" from the clerk of the court where the case was decided. If the court's a:
- Justice Court, file the Abstract of Judgment in the District Court and in the office of the county recorder in the county where the defendant's real property is located
You also need to file with the courts and county recorder a "Judgment Information Statement," which lists things like the names, addresses and Social Security numbers of you and the defendant, and information about the judgment.
If the debtor-defendant owns property in more than one county, then file these documents in each county. Once you've completed this process (called "recording a judgment"), you'll have a lien against all of the defendant's real property anywhere in Utah.
Samples of the Abstract and Information Statement are available online, but you can't use them in your collection efforts. You need to get the forms from the court clerk, who can also let you know the fees involved with filing them.
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 to seize his property or garnish his wages. After the trial, the court may ask the defendant about his financial condition. You may get some information at this time. If you don't have the information you need, you can file a "Supplemental Order." This will require you and the defendant to appear in court and defendant will be required to answer questions about his employment, income, bank accounts and other property.
The court clerk can get you the forms needed for a Supplemental Order and let you know if you need to pay a fee for it.
Satisfaction of Judgment
Once the defendant has paid the judgment, you have to file a "Satisfaction of Judgment," which is your acknowledgment that the defendant no longer owes you money. You also have to file a Satisfaction of Judgment in each county that you filed an "Abstract of Judgment" to place a lien on the defendant's real property. The debtor-defendant can also file a Satisfaction of Judgment if you don't. If he does this and if you don't object or challenge it, the court will enter the Satisfaction of Judgment into the court records.
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 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?
Related Resources on Lawyers.comsm
- Start the process with our Utah Small Claims Worksheet
- Next in the Small Claims series: Alternatives to Small Claims Court in Utah
- Success In Small Claims Court
- Small Claims Court Terms
- Defending a Small Claims Court Case
- Visit our Small Claims Court Forum for more help