When you win a suit for money damages, whether in small claims court or civil court, the judge will issue a judgment for the amount due to you. Ideally, your opponent will be in court and write you a check that clears your total due. That, however, is not what usually happens.
Collecting a Small Claims Court Judgment
Once you have your order and your opponent hasn't already paid you, you must wait at least 30 days after the entry of the judgment or the date it is mailed to you before you begin to collect the sum specified in the judgment. This delay is to allow the defendant time to appeal.
If the defendant appeals, the court will hold another hearing in the superior court. If you win again, you should receive your new judgment within about ten days. You can begin your collection efforts immediately upon receipt of the order.
If you won because the defendant didn't show up (a default judgment), you still have to wait 30 days to begin collection. However, the defendant has 180 days to vacate the default judgment. This period also begins on the date of the original judgment. If the judge vacates the judgment, there will be another hearing. The court will consider the defendant's explanation for missing the initial hearing. Usually, the best reason is a failure to serve the defendant properly. Based on that, the court may or may not vacate the judgment.
If you win again, you have to wait 30 days again. If, however, the court denies the motion to vacate, the defendant can appeal that denial. You have to wait till it's all over to begin collection.
Collecting a Civil Court Judgment
There is no waiting period for beginning the collection process.
Options for Collecting a Judgment
Several options are available for collecting a judgment once you have your order. The following are the two most common of them.
Levy a Bank Account
You will need to know the bank name and branch. These fill out three copies of the Writ of Execution and take them to the Clerk's office. The Clerk of the Court will use them to give you an official Writ of Execution which you file with the state and the local sheriff for execution. The sheriff's office, upon request, will assign an officer for service, and the officer will deliver a Notice of Levy to the bank. The same officer will collect the proceeds and give them to you (or your lawyer).
You again do the Writ of Execution as with the bank levy. Bring the copies to the Clerk of the Court, pay the fee, and make an Application for Earnings Withholding. At the Sheriff's Office, give them the original Writ of Execution, and they will complete the Earnings Withholding Order and Employer's Return. If the debtor has no objections, the levying officer gathers the wages to satisfy the judgment. If the employer does not cooperate, you can sue them.
Collecting a judgment can be challenging, but if you have taken the time and effort to obtain your judgment, you should take the necessary steps to collect the money you owe.