Collect or pay a civil judgment

This Guide has information about:

  • Steps you can take to collect a judgment
  • Laws that protect you if you owe the money

A judgment is a final court order at the end of a lawsuit. If it says one side owes money, it means they have a money judgment against them.

Collect and pay judgments

If a judgment says one side owes money, the side owed money has a legal right to collect it

The money is owed right away unless the court sends a notice that it's stayed. Stayed means it's put on pause temporarily. This can happen for a few reasons, like if one side appealed or filed for bankruptcy. As long as it's not stayed, the money is owed right away and any unpaid money collects interest at 5% or 10% per year. 

Most unpaid judgments expire after 10 years unless they're renewed. Learn more
Most judgments expire in 10 years after entry unless the judgment creditor renews it. Expired means the court won't force the person to pay it anymore. So, if someone tries to collect a judgment that is more than 10 years old, they legally can't unless it's been renewed. Family law judgments, like from a divorce, do not expire. 

After a judgment, you will see the terms judgment-creditor and judgment-debtor on court forms. This means that you are either owed money (so you are the creditor) or you owe money (you're the debtor). The creditor must collect the judgment. The court does not do it for you. The creditor can use different court processes to help collect what they're owed.

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You can also use these instructions to collect money a judge ordered one side to pay during the case, not just in a judgment. For example, if the judge ordered one side to pay sanctions for not following a discovery rule. You can use the same processes used to collect a judgment to collect money a judge ordered paid during the case.

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