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How do you enforce a small claims judgment? As good as it may feel to win in small claims court, it's only part of the battle. The fight over collecting your judgment may be just as contentious.
Despite the fact that it's just small claims court, where claims are limited to a certain dollar amount (typically about $5,000 or less), it's often still very difficult to collect payment from the defendant.
As courts usually don't get involved in enforcing small claims judgments, it's generally up to you to collect what's rightfully yours. Here are a few options you may want to consider:
Your judgment debtor usually has some time (typically 30 days in most states) to file an appeal. If he or she has filed, you'll have to wait until that has been decided before trying to collect.
If the time to pay up has passed or there was no appeal filed, you can try sending a letter to the debtor demanding payment or offering to work out a payment plan. Make sure to include the case number and to make a copy for your own records. This may do the trick in "scaring" or reminding the other party about their legal obligation.
For this purpose, signing up for a personal legal plan may be advantageous. Plans like those offered by LegalStreet include attorney-drafted letters on your behalf (up to 2 pages), as well as on-call access to local lawyers who can answer legal questions on a wide range of topics. LgealStreet plans are also affordable, starting at less than $13 a month.
If your debtor is being unresponsive or uncooperative, you can turn to actual collection methods. Most states, like New York and California, will employ local sheriffs or a city marshal who can help with enforcement processes.
Here are a few common ways you can enforce collection:
Enforcing a small claims judgment may take a lot of effort, and it can get complicated. Check out FindLaw's small claims court page to look up the particular small claims court rules in your state. You can also head to our Lawyer Directory to find an experienced collections lawyer near you.
(Disclosure: LegalStreet and FindLaw.com are owned by the same company.)
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