Congratulations--you've won your small claims case. Now, welcome to the hard part. Once a judge has ruled in your favor, you must attempt to collect the judgment from the other party. Remember, that person didn't want to pay you in the first place, so prepare to battle for your money.
Enforce a Judgment From a Small Claims Case
Contact the party that owes you money with a formal letter or notice. As this is your first attempt to enforce the small claims judgment, be polite and offer to work with the person. Don't make threats or harass the debtor.
Visit the Nolo Web site for a step-by-step guide to collecting judgments in the "Rights & Disputes" section (see Resources below). The easy-to-understand articles from Nolo may give you new ideas for collecting the debt.
Arrange for an examination of assets, which forces the other party to disclose his or her income and other assets. This can usually be done through the court.
Consider a settlement for a lesser amount. If the other party cannot afford to pay the entire judgment, he or she may be willing to settle in order to resolve the situation more quickly. This will also cut down on your collection costs.
Begin the Collection of a Judgment
Obtain a Writ of Execution (sometimes called Writ of Attachment or Writ of Garnishment) from the court in order to start the collection process. Simply take the document sent by the court that grants your judgment to the county clerk's office and fill out the proper form for your state.
Head to the sheriff's or marshal's office with your writ and ask for a seizure of assets form. You must know as many details as possible about the assets you wish to be seized. For bank accounts, you only need to know which bank the debtor uses. To garnish wages, you must know his or her employer.
If your attempts to enforce the judgment have failed, consider hiring a professional debt collector or agency.
- A judge can only rule in monetary amounts or demand the property be returned. He or she cannot force someone to provide you with services or even complete an unfinished job.
- Wait to initiate collections until the appeal period comes to an end. Sometimes, enforcing a judgment too soon may push the other party to appeal.
- If the party does not have money to pay immediately, you may try to enforce the judgment for a number of years depending on your state. Require that the debtor return to court yearly to disclose his assets until he can settle the claim.