Tips for Collecting Your Family Law Money Judgment in Divorce
So you have spent months (or maybe even years) reaching a resolution in your matter, but the process is not over yet. If you received a money judgment against your ex-spouse as part of your judgment, you still need to collect these funds and you probably want to do it quickly and cheaply!
Here are some simple (and some not-so-simple) tips for collecting money owed to you:
Make sure your spouse has a way to get the check to you
Make sure you provide a permanent address where they can mail the payment (alternatively, ask if they are willing to do a bank transfer and provide your bank information).
Be flexible about payment terms
Being flexible about payment terms is a simple way to increase your odds of receiving payment with little effort. While the party may fully intend to pay you, they may not have contemplated the real-world application of regular payments. If the Judgment provides for regular payments, you can offer to accept less if they pay you immediately. You can offer to accept payments weekly or biweekly rather than monthly. If you opt to receive regular payments, setting up an automatic deposit can be helpful and also offer some peace of mind.
If your spouse hasn't paid on time, send a follow-up letter
If your former spouse fails to pay by the court-ordered date, write a letter (or an email) reminding them that they owe you money and the consequences of failing to pay the debt, including, inter alia, accumulation of interest at the rate of 10% and negative effect on their credit rating. Further state that failure to pay may result in more serious action being taken, including wage garnishment or levying of their bank accounts. Sometimes, it can make a big difference if you have a lawyer send this letter on your behalf.
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Make sure you know about your spouse's assets and income
After receiving a Judgment, you (“creditor”) can ask your former spouse (“debtor”) to appear in court to answer questions about their financial status and assets. If they fail to appear, the court may issue a bench warrant for their arrest. Determining their assets helps you know what steps you should next take to collect on those assets. Here are some of the different ways you can collect:
Get a lien on your spouse's real property
You have to draft what's called an “Abstract of Judgment” and have it be certified by the clerk of the court and recorded at the county recorder’s office. All required information must be included otherwise the lien will not be valid. After obtaining the lien, you may get paid once they refinance or sell the property. Remember, if the debtor owns property in more than one country, you need to record the “Abstract of Judgment” in every county where the property is owned.
Collect debtor’s wages (wage garnishment)
You can obtain an Earnings Withholding Order to garnish (pay you instead of your spouse) your spouse's wages until your Judgment has been paid. Remember, you can only garnish up to 25% of the amount over the federal minimum wage that they earn.
Collect money from the debtor's bank account
You can levy the debtor’s bank account by asking the court to issue a “Writ of Execution”. There are several required court forms that must be completed in order to complete a Writ of Execution. If you decide to take this enforcement route, it may be beneficial to obtain assistance from a divorce lawyer, as this process is long and difficult.
Sometimes, getting the Judgment or Family Law Court Order is only half the battle. In cases where your ex is hiding assets or refusing to pay, consider meeting with a lawyer to help with the collection.
Hello Divorce Founder & CEO Erin Levine answers the question: How do I enforce a court order for spousal support?