Your debtor might try to avoid paying the judgment. You may want to have a lawyer help you collect the judgment. A lawyer can't represent you in collecting your judgment if your case was in Small Claims Court.
Whether you have a low income or not, you can use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers in your area. If you have a low income, you may qualify for free legal services. If you are not able to get free legal services but can’t afford high legal fees, consider hiring a lawyer for part of your case instead of the whole thing. This is called limited scope representation. To learn more, read Limited Scope Representation (LSR): A More Affordable Way to Hire a Lawyer. To find a limited scope lawyer, follow this link to the State Bar of Michigan lawyer directory. This link lists lawyers who offer limited scope representation. You can narrow the results to lawyers in your area by typing in your county, city, or zip code at the top of the page. You can also narrow the results by topic by entering the kind of lawyer you need (divorce, estate, etc.) at the top of the page.
Collect Before the Judgment Expires
Judgments expire. If you don’t collect your judgment before it expires, you lose the legal right to collect it. The clock on the expiration date is stopped while the judgment debtor is paying a judgment in installments.
A judgment from a Small Claims case expires six years after it is issued. Most other judgments in Michigan expire 10 years after they are issued.
You can renew a judgment before it expires by filing a motion to renew a judgment. You can use the Ex Parte Motion and Order to Renew Civil Judgment form from the Michigan One Court of Justice website.
File the motion in the court that issued the judgment. The judge may have a hearing on the motion. Ask the court clerk about the court’s procedure.
It takes time for a motion to be heard and decided, so file your motion well before your judgment expires.
Setting up a Payment Plan
You can ask the judge to order a payment plan if your debtor is at the trial but can’t pay the full judgment. Both you and your debtor must agree to the payment plan.
The debtor can request a payment plan anytime by filing a motion for installment payments.
You can’t garnish a debtor’s wages while they are current on payments.
Using Court Processes to Collect the Judgment
If your debtor doesn’t pay your judgment according to the order, you can use garnishment or seizure of property to collect it.
To do either of these, you need to know:
Where the debtor lives
What assets the debtor has
Where the assets are located
You might also need to know where the debtor works, the debtor’s Social Security number, employee identification number, or other information that allows the garnishee to identify the debtor.
If you don’t have that information, you can ask the judge to order the debtor to come to court to answer questions. Start the process by filing a discovery subpoena.
Filing a Discovery Subpoena
A discovery subpoena asks the judge to have a hearing to find out what assets the debtor has. You can use this information to try to collect your judgment. You can’t get a discovery subpoena until 21 days after the judgment is signed.
Start the process by filing a subpoena with the court that entered the judgment. You can use the subpoena form from the Michigan One Court of Justice website.
Complete the front of the form and the “Affidavit for Judgment Debtor Examination” section on the bottom of the form. You’ll need to contact the court to set a hearing date. Put the day, time, date, and the court’s address on the form under the words: “YOU ARE ORDERED TO APPEAR.”
The judge must sign the subpoena before it is effective. After the subpoena is signed you have to make sure it’s served on the person being ordered to appear.
At the hearing, the information you get depends on what you ask and what you requested in the subpoena. You might want to have a lawyer help you with this part of the case. This is called limited scope representation. To find a limited scope attorney directly look back to the beginning of this article.
Serving the Discovery Subpoena
The subpoena must be served on the person being ordered to appear.
If the debtor or the person being ordered to appear is a business, the subpoena should be served on its resident agent or the person in charge of an office or business. You can find the resident agent by entering the entity’s name in the State of Michigan’s Business Entity Search database.
Who can serve it
You can’t serve the subpoena. You can ask someone else or pay your local sheriff’s department, police department, or a process server to do it. If you ask someone else, that person must be at least 18 years old and not involved in the case.
How it is served
The server must give the person being ordered to appear a copy of the subpoena.
The server can also serve the person being ordered to appear by mailing the documents and fee by registered mail, return receipt requested. Once the papers have been delivered the server will get the return receipt (a green card) in the mail. Attach it to the Proof of Service.
The server can also have the person being ordered to appear sign the acknowledgement of service on the Proof of Service form. Then the server must fill out the Proof of Service form on the end of the subpoena and give it to you. You must file the Proof of Service with the court to show the subpoena was served.
Garnishing the Debtor
Garnishment is a tool you can use to collect a judgment if your debtor doesn’t pay it. It is a court process that lets a creditor collect money by getting it from someone who controls the debtor’s money or assets, or who pays the debtor. That someone is the garnishee. It can be a bank, employer, a tenant, or the State of Michigan (to garnish tax returns).
You can’t get a garnishment until 21 days after the judgment is signed. Read Getting a Garnishment to learn how to collect money using garnishment.
Seizing property is another tool you can use to collect a judgment if your debtor doesn’t pay it. It is a court process that orders a court officer to seize some property belonging to the debtor. You can’t do this until 21 days after the judgment is signed.
Start the process by filling out a Request and Order to Seize Property. You can use the Request and Order to Seize Property form from the Michigan One Court of Justice website. File it with the court that entered the judgment. The filing fee is $15.
The court issues the order by signing it. The order is carried out by a sheriff or court officer who seizes the property and then sells it. The sheriff or court officer deducts fees from the sale of the property. Any money that’s left is given to you, up to the amount of your judgment.
The sheriff or court officer can seize any of the debtor’s non-exempt property. Exempt property includes up to $1,000 in value of:
All household goods
Things the debtor uses to carry out a profession, trade, occupation or business
For example, if the debtor has a boat worth $5,000 the sheriff can sell it at an auction. The sheriff will take fees from the sale price and you will get whatever is left.
When the Judgment is Paid
When your judgment is fully paid, you should file a Certificate of Satisfied Judgment with the court clerk. You can use the Certificate of Satisfied Judgment form from the Michigan One Court of Justice website.