If you win a court judgment ordering the other party to pay you money, the court does not collect money for you. A money judgment in your favor does not necessarily mean that the money will be paid, but you can take steps to collect that money. This presentation by Beresford Booth PLLC outlines basic information about judgments and methods to collect on them.
Two of the most common methods for collecting a judgment are using the garnishment process to take money from a paycheck or a bank account, or hiring a collection agency to seek payment. A collection agency will take steps to find assets to collect. If you do a garnishment, one way to learn where the person works or banks is to use the supplemental proceedings process.
If you have a court judgment entered against you, certain laws protect your income and property if the other party pursues garnishment or hires a collection agency.
When court judgments are paid, the person who collected the money should sign a Satisfaction of Judgment to indicate that the judgment was paid and file it with the court or give it to the person who owed the money for filing. More information about this process is available from Nolo.
Depending on the type of case, judgments are usually effective for 10 years from the date of entry, and can be renewed for an additional 10 years. Specific information is found in Section 4.56.210 and Section 6.17.020 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW).
You must follow the rules about when collection efforts can begin. For example, Section 12.40.105 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) specifies when collection efforts can begin for small claims judgments, Rules for Appeal of Decisions of Courts of Limited Jurisdiction 4.2 discusses district court judgments, and Superior Court Civil Rule 62 discusses superior court judgments.
Collecting a court judgment
This legal process allows you (the Plaintiff) to take money from paychecks before an employer issues them, or take money from a bank (or another entity holding money that belongs to the Defendant). State laws on garnishment after a court judgment are in Chapter 6.27 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW).
- Garnishment self-help kit with forms and instructions from the law library - Forms for this process are being updated by the state due to changes made by ESSB 5173 effective July 23, 2023, summarized in this Final Bill Report. Because of the changes to the law the self-help kit is currently not for sale pending the state issuing updated forms. Prior kits are no longer valid and should not be used.
- Garnishment forms (without instructions) from the State Court website - these forms are in the process of being updated
These agencies typically take a portion of any money recovered. This article about knowing when to hire a collection agency is written for small businesses, but may also have helpful information for individuals.
A Superior Court judgment can operate as a lien on non-homestead real estate owned by the debtor. Judgment Liens on Property in Washington and Collect Your Court Judgment with a Real Estate Lien, both from Nolo, provide an overview about judgment liens.
State laws about judgment liens include Sections 4.56.190 and 4.56.200 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW).
Recording a certified copy of the judgment allows for a lien against homestead property in that county in excess of the value of the homestead exemption. See RCW 6.13.090. The Recording Guide from the Clark County Auditor's Office provides additional information about recording documents.
Ensuring lawful collection of a court judgment
A valid court judgment must be properly issued to be enforced. In rare circumstances, you can ask the court for relief from that judgment if certain court rules weren't followed. Washington LawHelp has forms and instructions for a Motion to Vacate based on Washington Superior Court Civil Rule (CR) 60.
If you have been notified that a garnishment has been issued against your bank or your employer, Washington LawHelp has some information pertaining to garnishment including:
- Information about debt collection
- Money that Cannot be Taken From You (Garnished) to Pay Off a Debt
- How to Protect Your Bank Account from Garnishment in Washington State
- How to Claim Personal Property Exemptions
Nolo's legal encyclopedia has information about Washington Wage Garnishment Laws that provides an overview of the limits on garnishment amounts and some information on defending a garnishment.
The State Court website has some forms that can be used to claim exemptions for certain assets and a notice of your rights.
If you have been contacted by a collection agency that is attempting to collect a debt against you:
- Information about debt collection from Washington LawHelp
- Debt Collection FAQs from the Federal Trade Commission
- Advice about dealing with debt collectors from the National Consumer Law Center
- Requirements and rules for collection agencies from Nolo
- Rules collection agencies must follow from the Washington State Attorney General's Office
Supplemental proceedings (also called a judgment debtor examination) are a way to order a person to come to court to provide information and answer questions about income and assets. The purpose of this process is to gather information to help you collect your court judgment.
You can use this process to learn about the debtor's assets. You can require the debtor to bring documents to court about their assets and income. Failure to comply with this court order can result in a warrant for the debtor's arrest.