Collecting a Small Claims Court Judgment
A defendant who loses and doesn't appeal the case or pay the judgment within 35 days must complete and return a Statement of Assets form to the judgment creditor within 35 days. This form, which accompanies the Notice of Entry of Judgment, provides the judgment creditor with a list of the judgment debtor's property and sources of income.
If the judgment debtor doesn't pay the judgment voluntarily, the court will help enforce the judgment by issuing orders. The judgment creditor can also hire an attorney to collect the judgment, or turn it over to a collection agency. Except when the judgment debtor chooses to pay the judgment directly to the court, however, the court does not receive or collect the judgment.
There are a number of enforcement procedures that are available to help the judgment creditor enforce and collect the judgment. These include:
If the judgment debtor has real property (for example, a house, a lot, or a condo), the judgment creditor can tie up the property or sometimes force the sale of the property (Abstract of Judgment). Also, if the claim is based on a motor vehicle accident, the judgment creditor may be able to have the judgment debtor's driver's license suspended until the judgment is paid.
- Court orders that require the judgment debtor to appear in court to answer detailed questions about his or her income, bank accounts and property (Orders to Appear for Examination);
- Court orders requiring the judgment debtor to provide specific documents, such as bank account records or other financial statements (Subpenas Duces Tecum);
- Court orders requiring the judgment debtor to surrender cash to the judgment creditor or valuables and other personal property in his or her possession to a levying officer (turnover orders); and
- Court orders (Writs of Execution) authorizing a sheriff or marshal to obtain money directly from a judgment debtor's bank or other financial account (bank levies), from regular salary or wages (wage garnishments) or from a business's cash register or safe (keeper levies).
Information about enforcing a judgment can be provided by the small claims clerk and the small claims advisor. For more detailed information, you can consult Collecting Your Small Claims Judgment, which gives detailed instructions on how to enforce small claims judgments. This handbook, published by the California Department of Consumer Affairs, is available at your public library or the small claims court.