Monday, May 9, 2016

How to Collect Your California Small Claims Judgment

Obtaining a money judgment in your favor does not guarantee that you will actually get paid. The court will not collect the amount due, although it will issue the necessary orders to help you. Your judgment is good for 10 years and renewable (to extend its 10 year expiration date) after that.

When can you start the collection process?

You can start when either the time for appeal runs out (30 days after the initial judgment) or after you win the appeal and the judgment is sent back to the small claims court (this usually takes 10 days after the appeals decision). A debtor must send you a Judgment Debtor's Statement of Assets (Form SC-133). Some courts mail a Form SC-133 to the debtor together with the original judgment.

What can you do to collect?

It’s illegal to harass the debtor (party that owes you money) but sending a letter to remind they owe you money pursuant to the court order enclosed is fine. Consider offering to negotiate a payment plan. Keep track of your expenses because some of them may be reimbursed.

Debtor’s examination

After the debtor ignores both you and the Judgment Debtor's Statement of Assets form, you can ask court for sanctions and to schedule a debtor’s examination. This procedure compels the debtor to appear in court and answer your questions about his or her assets under oath. This way you find out which, if any, assets it is best to go after first. Ask about income sources, employment, property locations, bank accounts, stocks, etc. You have the right to subpoena debtor’s paystubs, deeds and similar documents that prove the value of the assets. You can even ask the judge to order the debtor to turn over cash in his or her wallet to you right there.

To start the debtor’s examination process, you must fill out:

1) Application and Order to Produce Statement of Assets and to Appear for Examination (Form SC-134) and attach a blank Judgment Debtor's Statement of Assets;
2) Small Claims Subpoena for Personal Appearance and Production of Documents at Trial or Hearing and Declaration (Form SC-107).
File these forms with the court and make sure to serve them on the debtor.

Ignoring this hearing has potentially serious consequences for the debtor. Failure to show up may result in a bench warrant for the debtor's arrest. The judge will most likely not be present, so you will have to ask the questions yourself. If you have any problems with the debtor at the hearing, or the debtor fails to show up, you can ask the clerk to go get the judge.

Get a Writ of Execution

Once you know what debtor’s assets can be used to satisfy your judgment, the first step to those assets is usually to ask the court for a Writ of Execution (Form EJ-130).  Writ of Execution directs the sheriff or marshal to enforce the judgment in the county where the debtor’s assets are located. Writ of Execution is good for 180 days. Courts handle this procedure differently, so contact your particular judgment court for details.

Garnish debtor’s wages, bank account or a safe deposit box

Drop off the Writ of Execution and an Application for Earnings Withholding Order (Wage Garnishment) (Form WG-001) at the sheriff’s or marshall’s office. You may collect up to 25 percent of the amount over the federal minimum wage that the debtor earns, if the debtor is employed by someone else. You can’t garnish a self-employed debtor’s wages. You will have to hire a process server or the sheriff/marshall to serve papers on the debtor’s employer.
Put a lien on the debtor’s real property

A lien allows you to get paid, with interest, when the debtor tries to sell or refinance a house, land or other real property. To avoid waiting for the debtor to sell/refinance, you can also try to foreclose on the lien, if there is enough equity, by forcing the debtor to sell now and pay with the proceeds.

Put a lien on the debtor’s lawsuit

If you find out that the debtor has a lawsuit against another party, for approximately $25 you can put a lien on the money that the debtor will be entitled to receive if the lawsuit is successful.

Put a lien on debtor’s personal property

You can try to put a lien on the debtor’s car, electronics, jewelry, coin collection, etc. The cost of putting a lien on a personal property often does not make it worth the effort.

Ask a lawyer or collection agency for help

A lawyer or collection agency will help you locate debtor’s assets and collect on your judgment for a percentage of what they manage to recover.