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How to Enforce a Court Judgment and Get Paid

how-to-enforce-a-court-judgment-and-collect-payment

It’s one thing to win a judgment in court. It’s another thing to collect on it. While courts determine who is the debtor and who is the creditor, and the amount owed, courts do not themselves collect debts. This means that if you win a judgment, you must act on your own behalf to make sure that you receive what is owed to you. So what can you do to make sure that the system works for you?

First, you have to give the debtor time to pay the judgment or to arrange payment.

After a judgment, you must allow the judgment debtor 30 days after the mailing of the Notice of Entry of Judgment to act. During this time period, the debtor is allowed to make payment, submit a request for a payment plan, submit an appeal or motion to vacate the judgment, or to send you a statement summarizing the assets they own.

Once this 30 day period has elapsed, if the judgment debtor has done nothing, then you can act.

If the judgment debtor fails to act before the 30 day period ends, then a number of options open up for the judgment creditor. Some of these options include:

  • Contacting the debtor directly. Contacting them by mail is best, so that you can maintain a written record of your dealings. In this message you can supply them with an address to which they may send payment, offer to accept less than what was awarded in the judgment, or offer an installment plan. But note that if you submit a settlement offer be sure to have a deadline to respond by or it may be impossible or very difficult to rescind this offer at a later date.
  • You can place a lien on real estate the debtor owns, including their home, business buildings, and investment properties.
  • Seize assets that you know that the debtor owns such as cars or boats, or summon the debtor to court in order to force them to provide information about their assets.
  • Seize their bank accounts, wages, or in the case of independent contractors or people who are self-employed, seize money owed to them.
  • If the debtor is a business, you can seize business property such as vehicles, computers, tools, inventory, and even cash in the cash register.
  • If the judgment relates to a car accident, you can have the debtor’s driver’s license suspended.
  • If the debtor has a professional license through the Department of Consumer Affairs that authorizes them to conduct business, and your judgment is related to their professional services, you can petition to have their license suspended.

If you choose to seize a debtor’s financial assets, you have choices as to what assets to pursue.

Any seizure of assets or garnishment requires the filing of a writ of execution, which directs the local county sheriff or marshal to enforce the judgment in the manner described.

When creditors choose to seize a debtor’s assets, they usually opt to garnish employment wages or bank accounts, as these are the easiest and least expensive assets to seize. If you choose to seize money from the debtor’s bank accounts or the financial accounts of the debtor’s business, you must include these wishes with the writ of execution, along with information about the bank accounts or business(es) in question, to the right agency (usually the county Sheriff).

If you wish to garnish the debtor’s wages, you must know where the debtor works, and submit an application for an earnings withholding order after filing the writ of execution. In California, wage garnishments are usually limited to 25% of the debtor’s post-tax pay. This money is paid to the Sheriff’s Office, which in turn will transfer the funds to you.

Note that the sheriff will deduct their fees and costs from the funds they collect before turning them over to you.

While filing a lien on the debtor’s real estate doesn’t provide instant relief, it’s a good way to cover your bases.

A lien is not a way to instantly extract financial compensation from a debtor’s property; it isn’t like taking out a mortgage. A lien simply ensures that if the debtor attempts to sell real estate that they own, the money that you’re owed will be withheld from the sale and paid to you. This can be a good way to prevent a debtor from liquidating their assets and running.

The good thing about a lien is that you don’t have to know the address(es) of property that the debtor owns, or even if they own property at all. By filing an abstract of judgment, a lien is automatically placed on any property under the debtor’s name. However, abstracts of judgment only cover the county that they are filed in, so if you know that the debtor owns property in multiple counties, you will have to file an abstract of judgment in each one.

If your judgment is for a substantial amount, the abstract may be the first step towards foreclosing on the debtor’s home.  This process takes a while and you really need an attorney to help you complete each step correctly, as there are numerous letters that must be sent before you can even ask the court to let you auction the debtor’s real property.  If the letters aren’t sent at the right time with the right language the court won’t let you auction off the debtor’s real property.  However, if you have a large judgment ($50,000 or more) this may be the best option to get paid.

Suspending a professional or driver’s license is one way to forcefully compel a debtor to pay their dues.

If there are no better options available to you to extract compensation from a recalcitrant judgment debtor, you may be able to suspend their business and/or driver’s license to compel them to make good on what they owe you.

You may only have their driver’s license suspended in the State of California if the judgment is related to an auto accident on a California roadway which the debtor caused while driving. You can determine whether this option is available to you by referring to item 10 on your notice of entry of judgment (there will be a check in the box next to it).

If the outstanding judgment is over $750, you can have the debtor’s driver’s license suspended for up to 6 years by submitting a certificate of facts regarding an unsatisfied judgment. If the debt is less than $750, you can have the license suspended for 90 days by filling out and filing a notice of unsatisfied judgment of $750 or less. In either case, fill out the form and mail it to the address specified on the form.

If your judgment resulted from business services rendered by the debtor, and they are licensed through a state board, you may be able to have their license suspended. For more information, refer to the Department of Consumer Affairs for more information. The process may vary depending on the debtor’s profession.

If you have a judgment against a construction contractor licensed in California there are additional ways to collect that judgment.  You may be able to make a claim against their contractor’s bond or have the CSLB suspend their license until they pay.

The process of getting the money you’re owed can be frustrating, but time is on your side.

In the State of California, you have 10 years to obtain the money that you are owed, and if necessary you can file for a 10 year extension on that deadline. It’s important to exercise patience, and not to use inappropriate means of getting satisfaction. Resorting to illegal means of settling the debt, such as through harassment, unnecessarily informing other people about your case against the debtor, or attempting to contact the debtor at inappropriate times or places, can make you liable for civil or criminal prosecution.

If you are having difficulty in obtaining the money you are owed, or are unsure about how to start the process, it’s advisable to seek the services of a lawyer experienced with enforcing court judgments. For more assistance, contact the lawyers at Toeppen & Grevious at 916-400-4516, or email us using the contact form on our site.