Initial Steps to Take
Give your ex an address where they can mail the payment. You’d be surprised how many people do not let their ex know where to send the money! You can also consider offering to accept less than the whole judgment if they pay right away. This way, you’ll get most of your money quickly and encourage your ex to pay now rather than later. Or, you can agree to take regular payments. But keep in mind, if you agree to accept less than the entire judgment, you will give up your right to the rest of the money.
What to do if the Payment is not Made on Time
If your ex does not pay you by the date the court ordered, write him or her a letter and include a copy of the court order/judgment. Remind them that they owe you money and that you may have to take more serious steps if they don’t pay you voluntarily. Talk to a lawyer. If the judgment debtor will not pay, it can be complicated, expensive and take a lot of time to collect your money.
You can start collecting right away as long as the judgment has been entered. Check the court records to confirm that that the judgment has been entered and confirm that there is no stay (suspension or postponement) on enforcement of the order due to an appeal, a stay from a bankruptcy, or other legal action. Once you’ve confirmed that you can start collection, there are some pretty serious actions that you can take.
Get an Earnings Withholding Order
With this, your ex’s employer will withhold (take) a percentage of their wages and send it to you until the judgment is paid in full. You’ll need to know the name and address of the employer. The sheriff or process server will serve the employer with an Application for Earnings Withholding Order. The judgment debtor will get the chance to oppose your application. If he or she does, the court will then decide how much should be withheld to pay the judgment.
Put a Lien on Your Ex's Real Property (like a house or land).
In order to place the lien you’ll need to prepare an Abstract of Judgment. All the required information must be included or the lien will not be valid. The abstract must be certified by the clerk of the court. There is a $15 fee for this. Take the certified Abstract of Judgment and one copy to the County Recorder's office in the county where you believe your ex owns real property. There will be a recording fee. You will not be paid automatically, but if the debtor refinances or sells the property, you may get paid your money with interest. If you believe the debtor owns property in more than one county, you will have to repeat this process for each county.
Levy on Your Ex's Bank Account
You can tell the sheriff to take money from the judgment debtor’s bank account. You will need to know the branch where the accounts are kept, and usually, you also have to know the account number. Ask the court to issue a Writ of Execution and then prepare instructions for the sheriff/marshal explaining what you want them to levy. In many counties you'll need to hire a process server to serve the bank with the Notice of Levy in order to get the money from the account. A process server will prepare the instructions as a part of their fee. At the time of levy or promptly after the levy, a process server or sheriff/marshal must also serve the judgment debtor with copies of the writ, notice of levy and the Exemptions from the Enforcement of Judgments. Your ex will have 10 days to oppose the bank levy before the sheriff sends the money to you, and may file a Claim of Exemption. The court may have a hearing to decide whether to turn all or some of the money over to you.
Put a Lien on Your Ex’s Personal Property (like cars, furniture, equipment)
You can get the sheriff to take your ex’s car or other property, sell it, and give you the money. But this is hard and expensive to do. You have to pay upfront, and if the property isn’t worth very much, you may not get all your money back.
Get More Information
There are other legal steps you can take to collect a money judgment, especially if the debtor owns a business. Talk to your court’s self-help center or Family Law Facilitator to find out if they have information on these other procedures and instructions for how your court handles them. Another really excellent source of helpful information can be found at your local law library. The librarian there can direct you to books (even entire sections!) on the topic you need to research.