Winning your case in Small Claims Court is often the “easy” part. The real challenge arises in the collection of the money judgment.
Typically what happens after a person wins in Small Claims, they are awarded a certain amount of money and the defendant is immediately bound to pay said amount. What often happens is the judgment debtor (the person who owes the money) refuses to pay or is not able to pay the debt at this time. There are several options one can take in collection of the money owed to them.
First and foremost, the judgment creditor (the one who is entitled to the money owed) must request a transcript of judgment from the court. The cost for this is $6. After one obtains this document, they must file said judgment in the appropriate county clerk’s office. The cost for this is $10. These expenses get added on to the overall judgment amount.
Once the judgment is filed, the judgment creditor can attempt to have the debtor’s wages garnished if they have gainful employment. If they are self employed or unemployed, this makes things a bit more difficult, but viable options still exist in getting paid the money that is owed to you.
The judgment creditor can send out an Information Subpoena to the judgment debtor. This document, usually obtained from the court, is to be personally served on the debtor. Within this document, the debtor is legally obligated to list all their assets, income, employment status, bank accounts, social security number, etc. They then are required to send this document back to the judgment creditor. From here, the creditor may attempt to seize any assets the debtor may have, such as a bank account, in an attempt to force them to turn over the money they owe. If a debtor has a valid bank account, the creditor can send the bank a Restraining Notice, which effectively “freezes” the debtor’s account so they cannot withdraw anything out of it. At this point, the parties can work out some sort of deal. If not, the sheriff is then notified and funds are allocated accordingly.
This whole process takes a lot of patience. Like I’ve said about other aspects of the law, collection of a money judgment can be like a marathon. Slow and steady will win the race. Often times, people will go to Small Claims Court mainly out of principle. If you strongly feel you were wronged and are entitled to every penny awarded in court, do not hesitate in collection of said judgment. I assure you, you’ll sleep better at night knowing you did everything you could to fight for what you felt was right.