If you win the case and the judge issues a judgment in your favor, you can start collecting your judgment right away as long as:
- The judgment has been entered. You can check the court records to confirm that that the judgment has been entered; and
- There is no stay (suspension or postponement) on enforcement of the order due to an appeal, a stay from a bankruptcy case, or other legal action.
The court will not collect the money for you. But the court will issue the orders and other documents required to force the debtor (the party who owes you money) to pay. Keep in mind that not all judgments are collectable because the debtor may not have any income or property of value.
There are some initial steps you can take:
- Give the debtor an address where he or she can mail the money you are owed. You can offer to accept less than the whole judgment if the debtor pays right away. But if you agree to accept less than the whole judgment, you will give up your right to the rest of the money. Learn ways to get the debtor to pay you voluntarily.
- If the debtor does not pay you by the date the court ordered, write him or her a letter and include a copy of the court order. Remind the debtor that he or she owes you money and that you may have to take more serious steps if the debtor does not pay you voluntarily.
- Talk to a lawyer. If the debtor will not pay, it can be complicated, expensive, and take a lot of time to collect your money. And, read about some of the ways you can try to collect your judgment when the debtor will not pay you on his or her own.
Note: Judgments expire (run out) every 10 years. To avoid this, learn how to renew your judgment.
Do not use illegal ways to collect your money.
The debtor may be protected from abusive or unfair ways to collect the debt. And generally, it is not a good idea for you to use unfair or deceitful tactics to get the money the debtor owes you. In your efforts to collect the debt, you should NOT:
- Lie or make misleading statements to collect a debt;
- Harass the debtor;
- Ask another person for more than basic information about where the debtor is;
- Tell the debtor’s employer or other people that the debtor owes you money (except when you get an earnings withholding order from the court); or
- Get in touch with the debtor before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. or at any time or place that is not convenient.