Paying the Judgment

If you lose a civil case and are ordered to pay money to the winning side, you become a judgment debtor. The court will not collect the money for your creditor, but if you do not pay voluntarily, the creditor (the person you owe money to) can use different enforcement tools to get you to pay the judgment.

You should pay the judgment against you as soon as it becomes final. If you do not pay, the creditor can start collecting the judgment right away as long as:

  1. The judgment has been entered. You can go to the court clerk’s office and check the court’s records to confirm that the judgment has been entered; and
  2. There is no stay (suspension or postponement) on enforcement of the order because of an appeal, a stay from a bankruptcy, or other legal action.

The judgment creditor has different legal options available to collect the judgment from you if you do not pay on your own.  In response, you may also have options if these tools cause you an undue hardship. Click on the topic below for more information on your options.


Paying in installments or setting up a payment plan

You may be able to pay your judgment in installments or set up a payment plan. 

First, you can try talking to the creditor and see if they are willing to work out a payment plan with you. Remind the creditor that you want to pay but you just do not have the money to pay the judgment all at once. The creditor may decide they would rather have a little money at a time than nothing. If you work something out, make sure all the details are in writing. The agreement should include due dates, grace periods (if any), if and how interest will accrue, where you should send the payments, what form of payment will be accepted, and who you should make the payments to. Make sure you keep detailed records and proof of your payments.

If the other side will not agree to a payment plan, you can try asking the court. You can file a motion to set up an installment payment plan. You will have to have the other side served so they can show up at the hearing if they want to oppose your request. The judge will make a decision at your hearing.

Wage garnishments

One of the main tools that the creditor can use to collect from you is a wage garnishment. The creditor can file papers in court to have a portion of your paycheck garnished (taken) to pay off your debt. But, the creditor can NOT take the part of your paycheck that you need to support yourself and your dependents. That part of your paycheck cannot be collected. See Code of Civil Procedure section 706.051 for more information.

If the creditor tries to garnish your wages, you can file a claim of exemption. See Code of Civil Procedure section 706.123 for a list of what you need to put in a claim of exemption.

Claim of exemption for wage garnishment

A Claim of Exemption is a form a debtor files with the levying officer (like the sheriff or marshal) explaining why the wages that the creditor wants the debtor’s employer to garnish (take) should be exempt (excluded). There are laws and rules that say which types of incomes or property are exempt. You can read many of these exemptions in Exemptions From the Enforcement of Judgments (Form EJ-155).

To file a Claim of Exemption for a wage garnishment
Within 10 days of receiving a copy of the wage garnishment:

  1. Fill out a Claim of Exemption (Form WG-006) and a Financial Statement (Form WG-007).
  2. Use the Exemption From the Enforcement of Judgments (Form EJ-155) to find out what property or income is exempt from a levy.
  3. Turn in 2 copies of the Claim of Exemption and the Financial Statement to the levying officer in your case (like the sheriff/marshal or process server) within 10 days of receiving the wage assignment. Keep 1 copy of both forms for yourself.
  4. Your employer will hold on to the money garnished until:
    • 10 days go by and the creditor has not opposed your claim of exemption; Or
    • The judge makes a decision at the hearing on your claim of exemption.
  5. If the creditor does not oppose your claim of exemption, your employer will return the garnished wages to you.
  6. If the creditor opposes your claim of exemption, you will receive a Notice of Opposition to Claim of Exemption and Notice of Hearing on Claim of Exemption that will set a court date for a judge to make a decision.
  7. If the judge agrees with your claim of exemption, you will get your money back. If the judge agrees with the creditor, your employer will send the money to the creditor every month.

Read Code of Civil Procedure section 706.123 for a list of what you need to put in a claim of exemption.

To oppose a Claim of Exemption for a wage garnishment
If the judgment creditor wants to oppose your Claim of Exemption, within 10 days of receiving a copy of the Claim of Exemption, the creditor must:

  1. Fill out a Notice of Opposition to Claim of Exemption (Form WG-009) and make 3 copies.
  2. Fill out a Notice of Hearing on Claim of Exemption (Form WG-010) and make 3 copies.
  3. File the original of both forms with the court. The clerk will give the creditor a court date.
  4. Give a copy of each document to the levying officer (the sheriff or marshal). Keep 1 copy.
  5. Have someone 18 or older, NOT THE CREDITOR, serve a copy of each notice on you (or, if you are represented by an attorney, on that attorney) at least 10 days before the hearing.
  6. Go to the court hearing and explain to the judge why the money the creditor is trying to collect is not exempt.

Other non-wage garnishments and levies

As a debtor, you can also file a claim of exemption if the creditor tries to levy or garnish any asset of yours other than your wages. See Code of Civil Procedure section 704.010 for a list of what you need to put in a claim of exemption.

Claim of exemption for a levy or other non-wage garnishment

A Claim of Exemption is a form a debtor files with the levying officer (like the sheriff or marshal) explaining why the property or money that the creditor wants to take should be exempt (excluded). There are laws and rules that say which types of income or property are exempt. You can read many of these exemptions in Exemptions From the Enforcement of Judgments (Form EJ-155).

To file a Claim of Exemption for a levy or other non-wage garnishment
Within 10 days from receiving the Notice of Levy:

  1. Fill out a Claim of Exemption (Form EJ-160) and a Financial Statement (Form EJ-165).
  2. Use the Exemptions From the Enforcement of Judgments (Form EJ-155) to find out what property or income is exempt from a levy.
  3. Turn in the Claim of Exemption with the levying officer in your case (like the sheriff/marshal or process server) within 10 days of receiving the Notice of Levy.
  4. The levying officer will hold on to your property or money until:
    • 10 days go by and the creditor does not oppose your claim of exemption; Or
    • The judge makes a decision at the hearing on the claim of exemption.
  5. If the creditor does not oppose your claim of exemption, the levying officer will return your property or money to you.
  6. If the creditor opposes your claim of exemption, you will receive Notice of Opposition to Claim of Exemption and Notice of Hearing on Claim of Exemption that will set a court date for a judge to make a decision.
  7. At the hearing, the judge will make the final decision. If the judge agrees with you, you will get your money or property back. If the judge agrees with the creditor, the levying officer will turn over your money or property to the creditor.

To oppose a Claim of Exemption for non-wage garnishments
If the judgment creditor wants to oppose your claim of exemption, within 10 days of receiving a copy of the Claim of Exemption, the creditor must:

  1. Fill out a Notice of Opposition to Claim of Exemption (Form EJ-170) and make 3 copies.
  2. Fill out a Notice of Hearing on Claim of Exemption (Form EJ-175) and make 3 copies.
  3. File the original of both forms with the court. The clerk will give the creditor a court date.
  4. Give a copy of each document to the levying officer (like the sheriff/marshal). Keep 1 copy.
  5. Have someone 18 or older, NOT THE CREDITOR, serve a copy of each notice on you (or, if you are represented by an attorney, on that attorney) at least 10 days before the hearing.
  6. Go to the court hearing and explain to the judge why the money or property the creditor is trying to collect is not exempt.

Keep in mind that if you do NOT pay the judgment:

  • The amount you owe will increase daily, since the judgment accumulates interest at the rate of 10% per year.
  • The creditor can get an order telling you to reimburse him or her for any reasonable and necessary costs of collection.
  • Your credit may be damaged because credit reporting agencies will know you have not paid the judgment when your name appears on the court’s “Judgment Roll.” This can make it more difficult for you to get a loan, get a credit card, or even rent an apartment.
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