Collecting a court judgment

General information

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.

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 RCW Section 4.56.210 and RCW Section 6.17.020.

You must follow the laws and rules about when collection efforts can begin:

Collecting a court judgment

There are several ways to attempt to collect a judgment. This resource provides an overview of several methods:

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. A judgment can also be a lien on real estate.


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 RCW Chapter 6.27.

self-help form kits

Garnishment self-help kit with forms and instructions from the law library.
The kit includes forms and instructions to process a garnishment against an employer or a bank after a money judgment has been awarded. There are some limitations in the statutes on what can be garnished and Washington LawHelp has some information about limitations on garnishment.

Garnishment forms (without instructions) from the State Court website.

Collection agencies

Collection agencies are often used to collect debts. They have experience in debt collection and should have training to follow the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

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.

Judgment liens

A Superior Court judgment can operate as a lien on non-homestead real estate owned by the debtor. This is a long-term approach to collecting, as a valid lien will be paid if there are enough proceeds when the house is sold.

State laws about judgment liens include RCW Sections 4.56.190 and 4.56.200.

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 Section 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 a court judgment entered against you, certain laws protect your income and property if the other party pursues garnishment or hires a collection agency.


Washington Wage Garnishment Laws from Nolo provides an overview of the limits on garnishment amounts and some information on defending against a garnishment.

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:

Washington State court forms that can be used to claim exemptions for certain assets and a notice of your rights are on the State Court website.

Collection agencies

If you have been contacted by a collection agency that is attempting to collect a debt against you:

Supplemental proceedings

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.

This process can be used 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.

Satisfaction of judgment

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.