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Collect a judgment when you win at MA small claims court

Whether your claim had to do with a personal injury or a contract claim, the toughest part of the small claims process can be trying to get the money from the defendant.  In some cases the judgment debtor (the defendant who lost his case) will actually pay the amount he owes to the judgment creditor (you, the guy who won) on the day of the trial.  Unfortunately, that often does not happen.  When a judgment debtor refuses to pay, the judgment creditor can use all of the tools an attorney might use to collect a larger judgment issued by another court, such as getting a writ of execution, having a lien placed against the defendant's real property, or garnishing the defendant's wages.  But those steps can be complicated and costly (if you need an attorney's help to get them done).  Fortunately, the small claims court has a built in procedure to help facilitate payment of judgments.
 
For this an all issues related to the small claims process, readers should refer to Massachusetts Uniform Small Claims Rule 7.   Rule 7(i) states in relevant part:  "If the defendant has appeared and is before the court at the time of decision and if the defendant does not pay the amount of the judgment and costs or agree to a payment schedule acceptable to the plaintiff, the court shall conduct a payment hearing, including requiring the defendant to complete a written financial statement signed under the penalties of perjury."
 
In other words, if the judgment debtor does not pay up or refuses to enter a payment plan, then the court will issue a Notice of Hearing and establish a date on which the judgment debtor must appear, with the completed financial statement.  At that hearing, if the debt remains unpaid, the magistrate can set up a payment plan or find that the judgment debtor is "judgment proof" (can't afford to pay anything).  In that case, the court may issue a "judgment extension," typically for one year. At the end of the year, both parties will appear a another payment review hearing to determine if the judgment debtor is able to pay.
 
If the court never scheduled a "payment review hearing" after you won your case, or if the judgment debtor does not pay as he promised or fails to abide by a payment plan, then you can make a motion at the magistrate's office for a "Notice to Show Cause."  After this notice is served by a sheriff or constable, the judgment debtor must appear at court and explain why he has not paid.  (service fees--and fees for a capias, discussed below--will be tacked on to what he owes you.)
 
At that point, if the judgment debtor does not show up at the hearing, you can sign an affidavit affirming you have not been paid and ask the court to issue a capias (an arrest warrant that instructs a constable or deputy sheriff to arrest the judgment debtor and bring him to court). If he does show up, he better have a good excuse for not paying.  In some cases, the court may actually hold the judgment debtor until he agrees to make payment.  Hope that helps.

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