What Should I Consider before Filing in Small Claims Court?
An important thing to do before suing someone in small claims court is making sure that the person has the assets to actually pay the judgment. This is important because even if you win a judgment in small claims court, the court will not collect your judgment for you: it will be up to you to collect.
Here are several things to consider when deciding whether or not the person you are suing will have the assets to pay off the judgment:
In some states you cannot seize someone’s car if the car is worth less than $2000.
You should check to see if the person you are suing has a job or any other assets.
You can't collect due to legal collection limits on welfare benefits, Social Security checks, unemployment insurance, pensions, or disability checks.
Whether the party you are suing is solvent and likely to pay voluntarily.
If a business is involved it might be possible for you to collect from a cash register or even to seize equipment owned by the business.
What Is a Debtor Examination?
In small claims court, it is important to force the debtor to answer some questions about his assets, debts, and earnings to ensure that he or she has the money to pay the judgment. Come prepared with a list of questions that you can ask the debtor that includes:
A description of any real estate they own
Place of employment
Social security number
Driver license number
Bank location and account numbers
Other types of income, rental income
Stocks, bond, and business questions
If the debtor does not show up for the debtor examination, the court can issue a warrant for the debtor’s arrest.
What Is a Writ of Attachment?
A writ of attachment or writ of execution is a tool used to take debtor property, sell it and use the sales proceeds to your pay yourself for the judgment. Steps in the process are:
Ask the court for the writ, which tells the sheriff to pick up the debtor's property and sell it
Serve or deliver the writ to the debtor. You may have to use a process server and post a bond to protect the sheriff's office from being sued if any mistakes are made, such as taking someone else's property
Pay costs for any storage costs
Collect payment after the sheriff completes the sale (costs are taken out of sales proceeds before you're paid)
The process can be complex, so you may want to use a lawyer, especially if real estate is involved.
How Do I Collect a Small Claims Court Judgment?
If the other party cannot or will not pay the judgment, there are several options available to you:
Garnish Wages: You can get an order garnishing the other party’s wages, so that each month a bit of their paycheck would go towards paying off the judgment.
Attach Personal Property: This includes the other party’s house, car, and bank accounts. If you can find either of these things, you might be able to get the property seized and sold in order to satisfy your judgment. However, as stated above, there are limits as to what you can seize.
Judgment Lien: This is when you attach real property to the judgment and foreclose on the lien in order force a sale of the property in order to get the money necessary to pay your judgment.
Till Tap: Some states such as California allow the collector of a judgment to ask the court for an order directing the sheriff to go to the debtor’s business and make the debtor pay the judgment using the business proceeds currently in the cash register.
What Do I Do After I Collect the Judgment?
After you have collected your judgment from debtor, it is your responsibility to file a Satisfaction of Judgment with the small claims court once the judgment and collection costs are paid. There is a document on the court’s website called Satisfaction of Judgment which shows proof that the judgment has been paid.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Collect on a Small Claims Court Judgment?
As some of the methods involved in getting your judgment satisfied are rather complicated, such as getting a judgment lien issued or attaching personal property, it is best to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney. A lawyer that specializes in collections can help make the entire process simpler and easier to understand.
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