What happens after I win my case?
Authored By: Legal Aid of Northwest Texas - Waxahachie
If you have convinced the judge or jury that your side of the story is correct, and that you are entitled to some money from the person you sued, the judge will enter a "judgment" in your favor. But this doesn't get you any money. Sometimes the hardest part of small claims court is getting your money. In the vast majority of cases the person you sued will simply pay you after you win. If he or she does not, however, you must take legal steps to try to enforce your judgment.
There are a number of legal devices that you should consider after you have won in small claims court. The first thing you should do is file an "Abstract of Judgment." This is the device that makes your judgment public record and gives it legal effect. It also gives you a "lien" on any "non-exempt" real estate the person owns in the county you filed in. In Texas, a person's homestead is exempt. If they own any other property, for example, rental property, your abstract of judgment gives you a lien on that property and you could force its sale to satisfy your judgment.
If the person doesn't own any non-exempt real estate, however, your abstract of judgment will not help you. Therefore, you should consider a "writ of garnishment." This device allows you to obtain any money that is owed to the person you sued. The most common type of money that a writ of garnishment is used for is a bank account. If you know where the person you sued banks, you can go back to the clerk of the court and obtain a writ of garnishment to force the bank to turn over the money in the account to you.
You can also use a writ of garnishment to go after money owed to a person who is self-employed. For example, if you sue a contractor and he doesn't pay the judgment, you can use a writ of garnishment to get money owed to the contractor by other customers.
Texas law also allows you to obtain what is called a "writ of execution." This device orders the constable to take the debtor's "non-exempt" personal property and sell it to pay your judgment. In Texas, however, much of what the average person owns is "exempt." Exempt property includes most personal property, up to $30,000 in value for a single person and $60,000 for a married couple. If you sued a business, however, its property may not be "exempt."
Finally, there is a device called a "turn-over order." This permits the judge to order the person to turn over non-exempt property to you to satisfy the judgment. For example, if you know the person you sued is receiving a large sum of money from a construction job he is just completing, you can use a turn-over order to have the court order him to pay some of that money to you.
Texas law is very favorable to debtors and it can be hard to collect, even after you win. In most cases, however, you will get paid, and there are ways to try and force even the most stubborn debtor to pay up.