What Happens If Someone Does Not Pay in Small Claims Court?

You might be able to place an execution against the defendant's car.

You might be able to place an execution against the defendant's car.

Getting a judgment against someone in small claims court doesn't guarantee you'll get the money. You may have to take a series of complicated steps before you get what's coming to you. What you can do, and how much time you must give the defendant to pay before taking action, depends on your state's laws.

Property Execution

Some states may let you get an execution against the personal property of the person. The rule means the defendant won't be able to use or sell that property, and property in these terms means anything from a boat to cash. You will need to know where the property is to get an execution. For example, if you want to get an execution against his wages to garnish his pay, you'll have to find out where he works. You'll have to hire the office responsible for handing executions, usually the local marshal or sheriff, after you file. If you place an execution against personal property, that office takes the property and auctions it off to pay you from the proceeds.

Real Estate Lien

You can use your small claims judgment to create a lien against real estate the defendant owns, such as his home. If he wants to sell his home, for example, he'll have to pay you first and get the judgment released. Lien creation varies by county, but it usually involves you filing the judgment in the land records of the county of the defendant's property. Go to the court you won your judgment in to get the papers you need to file a lien against the defendant's real estate.

License Suspension

If the small claim is from a car accident and your judgment is over a specific amount--$750 in California, for example--you might be able to have the defendant's driver's license suspended. You'll need to complete forms at your state's motor vehicle's department to request the suspension. It could take weeks before it affects the defendant, depending on how quickly the department processes your request. The department has to confirm the judgment with the court before suspending his license.

Property Location

If you're having trouble locating any of the defendant's property, you might be able to take him to court to get the information. Some states allow private creditors to get a court order for these details. If the defendant doesn't appear or answer the court order, he's got even more problems since he can be held in contempt. The judge can fine him or even order jail time.


About the Author

Anna Assad began writing professionally in 1999 and has published several legal articles for various websites. She has an extensive real estate and criminal legal background. She also tutored in English for nearly eight years, attended Buffalo State College for paralegal studies and accounting, and minored in English literature, receiving a Bachelor of Arts.

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