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Introduction

If you win at trial and the judgment says the other person owes you money or property, you are the "judgment creditor." The person who lost is called the "judgment debtor."


Enforcing Your Judgment

You have to take legal steps to collect the judgment. The court will not collect it for you. You may not take action for 30 days from the date that the clerk mailed the Notice of Entry of Judgment (SC-130)  to the parties.

During the 30 day period, the judgment debtor may do one of the following:

If the judgment debtor takes no action, below are the legal steps that you may take to collect your judgment in the order in which you may want to proceed:

  • Get in touch with the judgment debtor.
  • Levy (seize) assets that you have personal knowledge of or listed on the Judgment Debtor’s Statement of Assets form.
  • Examine judgment debtor in court to locate unknown assets.
  • Suspend the judgment debtor’s driver’s license the judgment is for auto accident.
  • Suspend the judgment debtor’s professional license (example: Contractor’s License).
  • Place a lien on land, buildings, or residence.

Contacting the Judgment Debtor

Start by getting in touch with the judgment debtor. Give them an address where they can mail the payment. You can offer to accept less than the whole judgment if they pay right away. Or, you can agree to take regular payments.

Write to the judgment debtor instead of calling. That way, you cannot argue. The person who owes you money can pay you or the court all at once, or ask to make payments. Both parties can also "stipulate" (agree) to a payment plan. Fill out the form Stipulation for Time Payments (L-1094)  and file it with the court after it has been signed by both parties.

If you cannot agree on a payment plan, the judgment debtor can file a form called Request to Make Payments (SC-220) . The court will mail you a copy. You can file a Response to Request to Make Payments (SC-221)  that lets the court know what kind of payment plan you want. Read the Payments In Small Claims (SC-220-INFO)  for more information.


Correcting the Judgment Debtor’s Name

Depending on the correction that is needed, there are two ways to correct the judgment debtor’s name after the judgment has been entered:

  • Request for court order to correct the name of the judgment debtor.
  • Request to correct the judgment due to clerical error made by the court.
REQUEST FOR COURT ORDER TO CORRECT NAME OF JUDGMENT DEBTOR:

Your small claims judgment must use the correct name of the person or business that owes you money. Otherwise, you may not be able to collect your judgment. The law provides that you may request the court to amend the judgment to include both the correct legal name and the name(s) actually used by the judgment debtor. If the judgment debtor’s correct name is different from what is written on the judgment, you can ask the court to change the judgment to the correct name.

You may need to do this if:

  • The name on the judgment is not spelled correctly.
  • The name on the judgment is a maiden name, and the debtor has a new married name (or the judgment has a married name when the debtor has gone back to using a maiden name).
  • There has been a legal change of name (other than through marriage).
  • The debtor routinely uses a different name (an alias or pen name) and has assets in that name.
  • Your judgment lists the business name, but not the debtor’s personal name, and the business is owned by the debtor as a sole proprietor. You will not be able to have the judgment changed to name an officer or employee of the business.

Do this:

  • Fill out the Request for Court Order and Answer (SC-105) . Explain why you want to change the name on the judgment and that you have a good reason for the proposed change. If you have documents that support your request, say that "exhibits are attached" and attach those papers to your form.
  • File the Request (and any attachments) with the clerk. There is no time limit in which this has to be done.
REQUEST TO CORRECT JUDGMENT DUE TO CLERICAL ERROR:

You can also request that the name on your judgment be corrected due to a clerical error made by the court.

Do this:,/

  • Fill out a Request to Correct or Cancel Judgment and Answer (SC-108) . Indicate that you are asking for an order to correct (NOT vacate) the judgment. Explain why you want to change the name on the judgment. If you have documents that support your request, say that "exhibits are attached" and attach those papers to your form.
  • File the Request (and any attachments) with the clerk within 30 days after the clerk mails the Notice of Entry of Judgment.
RULING ON YOUR REQUEST:

After you file your Request, the clerk will mail a copy of it to the other side. The judgment debtor will then have 10 days to file and serve you with an opposition. If the judgment debtor files an opposition, it will say why the judge should deny your request. They can serve their opposition on you by mail.

If the judgment debtor files an opposition, the court may schedule a hearing so that the parties can testify. If a hearing is scheduled, the court will send both parties a notice of the hearing. If after 10 days (after you have been served with the judgment debtor’s opposition) you still do not have a notice of hearing or ruling from the court, contact the clerk and ask what is happening with your case, giving the clerk your case name and number. You can also look up your case online. If the judgment debtor does not file an opposition within 10 days, the judge may grant your request.


Requiring Production of the Statement of Assets

When the judgment debtor gets the Notice of Entry of Judgment (SC-130)  they will also get a form called the Judgment Debtor’s Statement of Assets (SC-133) .They will have to pay the judgment or fill out the Statement of Assets and mail it to you. You can then use this information to levy (seize) the judgment debtor’s assets as described below.

If the judgment debtor does not return a completed Statement of Assets form to you within 30 days after the Notice of Entry of Judgment was mailed to the parties, you can get the court to order them to go back to Small Claims court. File a form called Order to Produce Statement of Assets and to Appear for Examination (SC-134) .You will have to pay a filing fee. The clerk will give you a hearing date. Note: if you already know what assets the judgment debtor has, you can skip this step and go directly to levying (seizing) assets as described below.

The Order will not be valid unless it is personally served on the judgment debtor. It must be served by the:

  • Sheriff, or
  • Licensed process server (check the internet or Yellow Pages).

Provide the Sheriff or process server with:

  • A copy of the Order.
  • Written instructions of the name and address of the person to serve, best time of day to attempt service, and description of the person.
  • Pay a fee for service (refer to Sheriff website); process server fees will vary.

The judgment debtor must also live within 150 miles from the court. If they live more than 150 miles away you must conduct the hearing at the court in the county where the judgment debtor resides. For more information on this process, contact the Small Claims Advisor, Small Claims Clerk, or staff at the court’s Self-Help Center.

The judgment debtor has to pay you or go to the hearing. If they have not paid before the hearing then you have to go to the hearing. The judge will make the person who lost fill out the Statement of Assets and answer your questions about the property they have, how much money they make, and how much money they have in the bank. For sample questions that you may ask, go to the California Courts website.

If the judgment debtor does not appear for the hearing a bench warrant may be issued for their arrest. See below "How To Request a Bench Warrant."


Hearing to Disclose Assets

Even if the judgment debtor gives you a Judgment Debtor’s Statement of Assets (SC-133)  within 30 days you can still get the court to order them to go back to court to answer questions about the property they own and how much money they make. This is only necessary if you need more information about the judgment debtor’s assets in order to levy (seize) them as described below.

File a form called Application and Order for Appearance and Examination (EJ-125) . You will have to pay a filing fee. The clerk will give you a hearing date.

The Order will not be valid unless it is personally served on the judgment debtor. It must be served by the:

  • Sheriff, or
  • Licensed process server (check the Yellow Pages).

Provide the Sheriff or process server with:

  • A copy of the Order.
  • Written instructions of the name and address of the person to serve, best time of day to attempt service, and description of the person.
  • Pay a fee for service (refer to Sheriff website); process server fees will vary.

The judgment debtor must also live within 150 miles from the court. If they live more than 150 miles away you must conduct the hearing at the court in the county where the judgment debtor resides. For more information on this process, contact the Small Claims Advisor, Small Claims clerk, or staff at the court’s Self-Help Center.

The judgment debtor has to pay you or go to the hearing. If they have not paid before the hearing then you have to go to the hearing. The judge will make the person who lost answer your questions about the property they have, how much money they make, and how much money they have in the bank. For sample questions that you may ask, go to the California Courts website.

If the judgment debtor does not appear for the hearing a bench warrant may be issued for their arrest. See the next section "How To Request a Bench Warrant".


How to Request a Bench Warrant

If the judgment debtor has been served with either: 1) an Order to Produce Statement of Assets and to Appear for Examination (see above "Requiring Production of the Statement of Assets"), or 2) an Application and Order for Appearance and Examination (see above "Hearing to Disclose Assets"). Their appearance at the hearing is mandatory. If the judgment debtor does not appear, the Judge may order a bench warrant for their arrest.

It is your responsibility to have the bench warrant "issued" to the Sheriff for enforcement. To do this:


Memorandum of Costs, Credit, and Interest

If you have to use legal proceedings to collect your money, you will have to pay court fees, service fees, and Sheriff fees (costs). You can add most of these extra costs to your original judgment as long as you do so within 2 years from when they were incurred. You can also claim interest at 10% annually from the date of the judge’s decision. Lastly, you can acknowledge any payments that the judgment debtor has made on the judgment.

First fill out the first page of a Memorandum of Costs After Judgment, Acknowledgment of Credit, and Declaration of Accrued Interest (MC-012) . For more information on how to compute interest, check the California Courts website.

Next, have someone mail or hand deliver a copy of the Memorandum to the judgment debtor. Then have the person complete the proof of service document on the back of the form. You must then file the form with the court. The judgment debtor who lost will have 10 days to file a motion to dispute some or all of the costs. If no motion is filed, the clerk will add the costs to the judgment. If they file a motion, you will get a notice of hearing about the motion. The court will decide if you should get paid for the costs you claimed.


Levying (Seize) Assets Using a Writ of Execution

If the judgment debtor has not paid you and more than 30 days have elapsed since the clerk mailed the Notice of Entry of Judgment  and no "Motion to Vacate Judgment" or "Notice of Appeal" has been filed, you may levy (seize) the assets of the judgment debtor. The two most common and inexpensive assets to levy on are wages and bank accounts. You must be able to tell the Sheriff the location of the employer and bank account. This information may be contained on the Judgment Debtor’s Statement of Assets (SC-133)  if the judgment debtor completed the form and mailed it to you within 30 days after judgment was entered. Or you may be able to find out on your own. Otherwise, you may first need to have a hearing to question the judgment debtor about the location of their assets (See above "Requiring Production of the Statement of Assets or Hearing To Disclose Assets").

A Writ of Execution (EJ-130)  is a form you fill out and have issued by the clerk. It describes the details of the judgment. There is a fee to have the writ issued. You need to get a writ before you can use any of the 5 collection methods listed below. Before reading further, check the California Courts website  on levying on assets of the judgment debtor.

The Writ of Execution will be issued for the amount of the judgment. However, the judgment debtor may owe less if they have made a payment or they may owe more due to the 1) accrual of interest or 2) court costs that you have spent after judgment has been entered in trying to collect your judgment. (see above "Memorandum of Costs, Credit and Interest")

NOTE: You do not have to file this form for the costs you will be spending for the court fees and Sheriff’s fees for the current Writ of Execution you are requesting. Those costs will be automatically added. However, if you are claiming costs for a previous Writ or other costs spent to collect your judgment, you must wait 10 days after a copy of the Memorandum of Costs is mailed or given to the judgment debtor before those costs can be added to the current Writ of Execution you are requesting.

For more information on claiming a payment, interest, or costs see above "Memorandum of Costs, Credit, and Interest."

NOTE REGARDING SHERIFF DEPARTMENTS AND THEIR FEES:

All of the collection methods listed below may involve requesting the help of a Sheriff in the county where the asset or property is located. The Sheriff Instructions and Sheriff fees may vary from one county to another. If the Sheriff is successful in collecting your money, they will also collect their fee so that you are reimbursed. View more information about the Orange County Sheriff’s fees, locations, instruction forms and requirements.

SEIZE EARNINGS:

You can tell the Sheriff to take wages if you know where the judgment debtor works. An Earnings Withholding Order tells the judgment debtor’s employer to give the Sheriff a portion of what they earn until the judgment is paid. The standard portion withheld is 25% of the net (after-tax) pay. The sheriff will give you the money.

You must:

You will need to know the name and address of the employer of the judgment debtor so that the Sheriff can serve them with the forms. The employer must then respond to the Sheriff within 15 days confirming that the judgment debtor works there and how frequently they are paid.

The judgment debtor may challenge the seizure of their wages. For more information, see section "Making Payment/Failure to Make Payment-Defendant."

SEIZE PERSONAL PROPERTY:

You can tell the Sheriff to take money from the bank account and give it to you. Or, you can get the Sheriff to take personal property, such as a vehicle, sell it, and give you the money. You must know the location of the property. The Sheriff’s fees vary greatly depending on the property, ranging from approximately $35.00 to levy (seize) a bank account to $1,800.00 to seize and sell a vehicle. These costs will be added to the amount that the Sheriff collects, but there is no guarantee of collection. There may not be any money in the bank account, or the judgment debtor may owe more on the car than it is worth.

You must:

  • Complete a Writ of Execution (EJ -130) . Have it issued by the clerk and pay the issuance fee by submitting it to the court location where your case was filed or you may also submit the document by eFile.
  • Fill out Sheriff Instructions that describe the property and say where it is, and the name and address of the person or business that should get the Notice of Levy (example: name and address of bank).
  • Give the Writ and Sheriff Instructions to the Sheriff, along with their fee.

The judgment debtor may challenge the seizure of their bank account or personal property. For more information, see the section "Making Payment/Failure To Make Payment - Defendant."

SEIZE MONEY OF A BUSINESS (TILL TAP):

If the judgment debtor is a business with a cash register, you can get the Sheriff to go to the business and take enough money out of the register to pay the judgment and the Sheriff’s fee. This is a common collection method and not as expensive as putting a Sheriff’s "keeper" in a business (see below).

You must:

  • Complete a Writ of Execution (EJ-130) . Have it issued by the clerk and pay the issuance fee by submitting it to the court location where your case was filed or you may also submit the document by eFile.
  • Fill out Sheriff Instructions, including the name and address of the business and the best time of day to do the "till tap."
  • Give the Writ, Notice of Levy, and Sheriff Instructions to the Sheriff along with their fee. (If there is not enough money in the register to pay the judgment, you will have to pay another fee every time the sheriff goes back.)

The judgment debtor may challenge the seizure of their personal property. For more information, see section "Making Payment/Failure to Make Payment-Defendant."

SEIZE THE MONEY AND PERSONAL PROPERTY IN THE DEBTOR’S BUSINESS ("KEEPER"):

If the judgment debtor is a business, you can get the sheriff to put someone (called a "keeper") in the business for a certain amount of time. They will collect money throughout the day until the time you have paid for is up or the judgment is paid. It is also possible to have the Sheriff sell the inventory of the business. The Sheriff’s fees for a keeper can be expensive. The fees will be added to the amount that the Sheriff collects, but there is no guarantee of collection.

You must:

  • Complete a Writ of Execution (EJ-130) . Have it issued by the clerk and pay the issuance fee by submitting it to the court location where your case was filed or you may also submit the document by eFile.
  • Fill out Sheriff Instructions, including the name and address of the business and the date and hours you want the "keeper" to stay in the business.
  • Give the Writ and Sheriff’s Instructions to the Sheriff along with their fee.

The judgment debtor may challenge the seizure of their personal property. For more information, see section "Making Payment/Failure to Make Payment-Defendant."

SELL LAND, BUILDINGS, OR RESIDENCE:

You may be able to seize and sell the judgment debtor’s land, buildings, or residence. The process is complicated and costly. It is recommended that you consult an attorney who specializes in the collection of civil judgments.


Recording a Lien on Land or Buildings

An Abstract of Judgment (EJ-001) puts a lien on any land, house or other building that the judgment debtor owns. If the person who lost sells the property with title insurance, you will be paid using the money from the sale. You have to pay to get an Abstract of Judgment from the court. You also have to pay to record it in every county where the person might own land. You do not have to provide the address of the property to lien, nor do you even need to know for certain that the judgment debtor owns property. The Abstract of Judgment will place a lien on any property that is in the name of the judgment debtor. A simple rule of thumb is to record a lien in the county where the judgment debtor resides or does business.

You must:

  • Wait 30 days from the date of mailing of the Notice of Entry of Judgment.
  • Complete an Abstract of Judgment (EJ-001) . Have it issued by the clerk and pay the issuance fee by submitting it to the court location where your case was filed or you may also submit the document by eFile.
  • Give the original issued Abstract to the County Recorder and pay their recording fee.
    • For more information, check the Orange County Recorder website.
    • If recording the Abstract of Judgment in a county other than Orange County, please check the appropriate County Recorder website for fees and procedures.

After the Abstract has been recorded, the County Recorder will return the document to you. Retain this document. You will need the recording information on it later in order to complete an acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment after you have been paid in full. See below "What To Do After The Judgment is Paid" for more information.


Suspending a Driver’s License

If your judgment is from a car accident on a California highway, and the judgment debtor caused the accident by driving, you can ask the have their driver’s license suspended. If you are not sure if you can do this, look at item 10 on your Notice of Entry of Judgment.

If the judgment is over $750:

  • Wait 30 days from the date of mailing the Notice of Entry of Judgment.
  • Fill out a Certificate of Facts Re Unsatisfied Judgment (DL 30) if the judgment is over $750.
  • File it with the clerk where your trial was held and pay the following fees: $15.00 to issue the Certificate or Notice, plus $25.50 to copy and certify the judgment which must be attached to the Certificate or Notice.
  • The clerk will return the Certificate or Notice to you to file with the California Department of Motor Vehicles. For more information on DMV’s address, fees, and procedures, click on the applicable form above.
  • The driver’s license will be suspended for 6 years.

If the judgment is $750 or under:

  • Wait 90 days from the date of mailing of the Notice of Entry of Judgment.
  • Fill out a Notice of Unsatisfied Judgment (DL-17) if the judgment is $750 or under.
  • File it with the clerk where your trial was held and pay the following fees: $15.00 to issue the Certificate or Notice, plus $25.50 to copy and certify the judgment which must be attached to the Certificate or Notice.
  • The clerk will return the Certificate or Notice to you to file with the California Department of Motor Vehicles. For more information on DMV’s address, fees, and procedures, click on the applicable form above. The driver’s license will be suspended 90 days.

Suspending A Professional License

If your judgment is against a person or business that must be licensed with the State of California Department of Consumer Affairs, such as a contractor or real estate agent, you may be able to suspend their professional license if your judgment is for damages resulting professional services.

For more information check the:


Do Not Use Illegal Ways to Collect Your Money

The person who owes you money is protected from abusive or unfair ways to collect the debt. Collection agencies and people who collect their own debts cannot:

  • Lie or make misleading statements to collect a debt,
  • Harass the person who owes them money,
  • Ask for more than basic information about where the debtor is from another person,
  • Tell the debtor’s employer or other people that the debtor owes them money (except when you get an earnings withholding order), or
  • Get in touch with the debtor before 8:00am or after 9:00pm or at any time or place that is not convenient.

For more information on this subject, check the California Courts website.


How Long a Judgment Is Valid

You have 10 years to enforce your judgment. But, if you cannot collect the whole judgment in that time, you can get 10 more years to collect the debt.

File a form called Application For and Renewal of Judgment (EJ -190)  and Notice of Renewal of Judgment (EJ-195) . You will have to pay a fee. If you cannot afford the fee, you can apply to the court to have the fees waived. You have to file before the first 10 years are up. The clerk will keep the original Application, but give you back the original Notice which has been "issued" by the clerk.

You cannot enforce the renewed judgment until you have the judgment debtor served with a copy of both the Application and Notice. You cannot serve your claim. Service must be performed by:

  • Someone of your choosing not listed on the case who is at least 18 years old, or
  • Sheriff, or
  • Licensed process server (check the internet or Yellow Pages).

Further:

They have 30 days from the day they are served to file a motion to request that the Application be vacated or modified. At the expiration of this time you may enforce your judgment.

For more information on this subject, check the California Courts website.


What to Do After a Judgment Is Paid

After you have been paid in full, you must file an "Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment." If you did not 1) record an Abstract of Judgment to place a lien on land and buildings or 2) file a Certificate of Facts Re: Unsatisfied Judgment to suspend the judgment debtor’s driver’s license, just fill out and file the form on the back of your Notice of Entry of Judgment (SC-130) .

If you did record an Abstract of Judgment, you have to file the form called Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment (EJ-100) . You will have to name every county where you recorded the Abstract and sign the form in front of a notary public. You must have the Acknowledgment recorded in each county where the Abstract of Judgment was recorded. The recorder will charge a fee. For further information check the Orange County Recorder’s website. For all other County Recorders, check their website.

If you filed a Certificate of Facts Re: Unsatisfied Judgment or Notice of Unsatisfied Judgment with the Department of Motor Vehicles you will need to sign the form mailed to you by DMV after you filed the Certificate with their Sacramento office. You must then give this form to the judgment debtor so that they may apply to have their driver’s license reinstated.

You must also file the Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment with the court as described above. If you do not file the Acknowledgment, and the judgment debtor tells the court, you may be fined at least $50 plus any damages caused to the debtor.

For more information on this subject, check the California Courts website.


What to Do If a Judgment Debtor Files Bankruptcy

Each of the 94 federal judicial districts in the United States handles bankruptcy matters, and in almost all districts, bankruptcy cases are filed in the Bankruptcy Court. Unlike your Small Claims case, bankruptcy cases are heard in the Federal court. Bankruptcy laws help people who can no longer pay their creditors get a fresh start by liquidating their assets to pay their debts, or by creating a repayment plan.

Bankruptcy laws also protect troubled businesses and provide for orderly distributions to business creditors through reorganization or liquidation. These procedures are covered under Title 11 of the United States Code (the Bankruptcy Code). The vast majority of cases are filed under the three main chapters of the Bankruptcy Code, which are Chapter 7, Chapter 11, and Chapter 13.

If you have been named as a creditor in a bankruptcy case, both the California Courts website and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court website contain basic information. In most circumstances the filing of bankruptcy prohibits creditors from taking any action to collect a debt, including a small claims judgment. You should consult an attorney, Small Claims Advisor, or the court’s Self-Help staff for advice.

How to Get More Information

If the person who lost will not pay, it can be complicated, expensive and take a lot of time to collect your money. You might want to talk to a lawyer or read a legal guide about how to enforce judgments before you try anything else. If you do not, you could waste time and money or do something illegal. For more information to help you understand the collections process go to the:


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