Your hard work and determination finally paid off. You won the case you filed in the Wyoming small claims court! The judge agreed with you, and the defendant's been ordered to pay you. You're to be congratulated, and you should be excited, but don't be so quick to think that the job is done and the work is over.
Unfortunately, just because you won the case 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. But this doesn't happen in every case. Often, the defendant tries to avoid paying 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 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
Also known as "executing judgment," this is when you take (or "levy") some of the debtor's property or assets to pay what she owes. You need to ask the judge for this writ and you have to be able to specify what you want levied and where it's located. Once you've been granted a writ:
- You have to take it the sheriff of the county where the defendant-debtor's property is located, and you have to be able to tell the sheriff where he can find the property listed in the writ
- After the sheriff delivers the writ to the debtor (or "serves" it on him), the sheriff may take the items listed in the writ
- Unless the debtor demands a hearing and claims that the property or assets are "exempt," meaning that it can't be taken to pay the judgment because it's protected by law, the deputy will either give the money to you directly or sell the property and give you the sale 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
- Real estate, like vacation or rental property
Exempt property or money that can't be reached through the writ include 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.
The clerk of the circuit court where you filed the small claims case can get you the forms you need for this writ. In addition, you have to pay a filing fee and a fee to the sheriff for delivering it to the defendant. The clerk can tell you the current fee amounts.
This is when you arrange for money to be taken directly out of the debtor's paycheck and paid to you. To do this, you have to file an application for a "Writ of Continuing Garnishment," pay a filing fee, and have the writ delivered to the debtor and the debtor's employer by the sheriff. The court clerk can get you the forms you need and tell you the fees for filing them, as well as having them served by the sheriff. Once the writ's been granted, the defendant-debtor's employer will withhold some of the debtor's wages, which usually can't be more than 25% of his weekly pay. The employer delivers the money to the court clerk, who in turn pays it over to you.
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 file a certified transcript or copy of the small claims judgment in the district court for each county where the debtor owns property. In addition, you need to file the judgment in the land records office (or "recorder's office") of each county where the debtor has land.
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, and you file a lien against his land. If you don't know this information, you can ask the small claims court for a "discovery" order. With this, you can make the debtor answer questions about the location of his property and assets.
Satisfaction of Judgment
Once the debtor has paid the judgment, you're required to fill-out and file a "Satisfaction of Judgment" form. By doing so, you agree that the debtor has paid you and that she no longer owes you anything. You have to file it within 15 days after the judgment's been paid. If you don't file this form, you may have to pay a fine of $25 to $200. The form must be signed in front of the court clerk or a notary. The recorded form is important to the debtor because she won't want to see the judgment shown on her credit reports as an outstanding debt.
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 her. What can I do?
- Is there anything I can do if a debtor sells her house before I can get my lien recorded?
Related Resources on Lawyers.comsm
- Start the process with our Wyoming Small Claims Worksheet
- Next in the Small Claims series: Alternatives to Small Claims Court in Wyoming
- Success In Small Claims Court
- Small Claims Court Terms
- Defending a Small Claims Court Case
- Visit our Small Claims Court Forum for more help