You will have to collect your money yourself if you win in Small Claims Court. The court will not collect it for you. You must wait at least 30 days from the date of the Entry of Judgment to collect if the defendant appeared in court, and at least 30 days if you have a Default Judgment. You need to check with the county Sheriff in the appropriate county to see if they still serve Writs of Execution. If not, you will need to employ a process server who will serve the writ. Before having the court issue the writ, you will need to file a Memorandum of Costs form for the process servers' fee and mail a copy to the opposing side. If the 30th day falls on a weekend of holiday they have one additional work day to file their appeal. The judgment is good for 10 years and can be renewed. You are entitled to interest, at 10 percent per annum, beginning with the date of the Entry of judgment, and to payment for some of your costs in collecting the judgment.
To add your costs to the judgment, ask the Clerk in the Small Claims Office for a Memorandum of costs form. Fill it out and return it to the Clerk. After you collect your judgment, your must file a Satisfaction of Judgment form with the Clerk.
The following are some things you can do to try to collect if the person who owes you money, called the judgment debtor, refuses to pay:
- Garnish the Debtor's Wages
A wage garnishment orders the debtor's employer to give you part of the debtor's wages until the debt is paid.To garnish wages, bring your judgment to the Small Claims Clerk and ask for a Writ of Execution and an application for Earnings Withholding Order.
- Levy upon the Debtor's Bank Account
This means that money will be taken from the debtor's bank account to pay the judgment. You will need the name, address and branch of the bank. Get a Writ of Execution from the Small Claims Clerk. There is a fee to issue a Writ of Execution.
- Record an Abstract of Judgment
An "Abstract of Judgment" puts a lien on any land, house or other buildings the debtor owns in the county where the abstract is recorded. Record the abstract in all counties where the debtor may own property. If the property is sold, the debt will be paid out of the proceeds of the sale.
An Abstract of Judgment will also put a lien on property the debtor may buy in the future and prevent the debtor from refinancing any property until the debt is paid.
To record an Abstract of judgment, bring your judgment to the Small Claims Clerk and ask for an Abstract of Judgment. There is a small fee. Take the "Abstract" to the County Recorder's office to record. There is a fee. In San Mateo County, they are located at: 555 County Center Redwood City, CA
There are some other ways to try and collect judgments:
- Have the Sheriff do a Till Tap
If the debtor is a business with a cash register, the Sheriff can go to the business and take enough money out of the register to pay the judgment and his fee.
First get a "Writ of Execution" from the Small Claims Clerk and bring it to the Sheriff. Instruct the Sheriff to do a Till Tap. You must know the name and address of the business. If there is not enough money in the register to pay the judgment, you will have to pay another fee each time the Sheriff goes back.
- Put a "Keeper" in the Debtor's Business
If the debtor is a business, the Sheriff will, for a fee, remain in the debtor's business, including a doctor or dentist's office, and take all the funds that come in until the judgment is paid. The keeper can collect cash, checks and bank credit card drafts.
You will need the name and address of the business. Get a Writ of Execution and take it to the Sheriff. Tell the Sheriff you want to put a keeper in the business. If the debtor closes the business while the Sheriff is there, you will have to pay another fee each time the Sheriff goes back.
- Hold a Judgment Debtor Hearing
A judgment debtor hearing requires the debtor to come to court and answer your questions about his salary, bank accounts, property and anything else that could be used to pay the judgment. If you wish, you can subpoena bank books, property deeds, paycheck stubs, etc., before you hold the hearing. You will need a subpoena duces tecum. Get the subpoena from the Clerk. We have provided some sample questions for examining the judgment debtor.
To hold the Hearing, ask the Small Claims Clerk for an "Order of Examination". There is a fee. The Order of Examination must be served on the debtor by the Sheriff or a Registered Process Server. The debtor must be within 150 miles of the Court.
- Suspend Debtor's Driver's License
If you won a judgment in an auto accident case, and the judgment is not paid within 90 days after the judgment becomes final, you can have the debtor's driver's license suspended for 90 days. Get form DL 17 from the DMV. There is a fee.
The Resources page lists books you may find useful on this topic.