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Q: I sued someone in small claims court. Now I don’t know how to get my money and the court tells me that they cannot help me. HELP!
A: This is one of the tricks of small claims court. The process of suing someone is fairly easy. In fact, you can do it online in Sacramento at saccourt.ca.gov. However, once you sue them and you win, then what? The court, as the video they show at the beginning of the hearing says, will not help you collect a judgment. So, what is a person to do?
First, do not do anything for 30 days. You are not allowed to collect, or attempt to collect, the money for the first 30 days. Don’t even think about trying it.
Second, ask the debtor to pay voluntarily. A debtor who pays voluntarily is more likely to pay and is going to make your life easier. Even if you have to take payments, this is your best option.
Third, you can contact a debt collection agency or an attorney to ask for assistance. A collection agency will collect the debt for somewhere between 10 and 30 percent. An attorney will usually cost you a bit more, but you will not have to go through the process and the headaches involved.
If, after all of that, you still want to try to collect the judgment yourself, you should start with reading — a lot. The court website at courtinfo.ca.gov has all the forms you need. You can levy a bank account by filling out a form if you know where the debtor banks. (Remember that check they wrote to you and then canceled? That would come in handy here.) You can put a lien on any real property by filling out a form and filing it with the county recorder. You can garnish wages of the debtor if he has a job.
If all else fails and you don’t have any information on the debtor, you can set an order of examination. This is a process where the court sets a date and orders the debtor to show up and answer questions about his assets, job, etc. You can get almost any information you want about the debtor and his ability to pay.
Congratulations on winning your case. Now you can get the forms online or at the Carol Miller Justice Center to start trying to collect your money!