Small Claims

After the Case

After the trial hearing, the judge will decide if the defendant owes the plaintiff anything. And, if the defendant counter-sued the plaintiff, if the plaintiff owes the defendant anything. The judge will decide the amounts.

Sometimes a request for one side to do something or to stop doing something was part of the claim (or counter-claim). The judge will make decision about the request. The judge will specific a time and date by when the losing side has to comply or pay a specific amount of money to the winning side.

The court has 90 days after the trial date to mail the Notice of Entry of Judgment (Form SC-130) to each side.

After the trial hearing is over, it still is not the end of the case.

See the Frequently Asked Questions - After a Judgment has Been Made:

After the trial hearing, the court clerk will mail the plaintiff and the defendant a Notice of Entry of Judgment (Form SC-130), which states that the small claims case has been decided – and who won and lost. The court clerk will also include a blank form called Judgment Debtor’s Statement of Assets (Form SC-133).

  • The person who won the case is now called the “judgment creditor.”
  • The person lost the case is now called the “judgment debtor.”

The judgment creditor must wait 30 days from the date the court mails the Notice of Entry of Judgment before taking any steps to collect the judgment.

What you, the judgment debtor, can do depends on whether you went to the hearing or not.

If you went to the hearing

You have 30 days from the date that the court mailed the Notice of Entry of Judgment to:

  • Pay the debt (or meet the requirements of the "conditional judgment ")
  • File an appeal of the judgment (to learn how to do this, complete and mail to the judgment creditor a Judgment Debtor’s Statement of Assets (Form SC-133).
    • The SC-133 form has information about your property, including what it is, where it is located and who has it.
    • Do not send a copy of the SC-133 form to the court. Send it to the judgment creditor directly.

If you did NOT go to the hearing

The court’s judgment is a "default judgment". In this case:

  • If you were served correctly – but you had a good reason for not going to the hearing – you have 30 days from the date that the court mailed the Notice of Entry of Judgment to file a motion to cancel the judgment.
  • If you were NOT served correctly, you have 180 days from the date you knew, or should have known, that you lost the case to file the motion to vacate (cancel) the judgment.

If you properly file an appeal or motion within the 30-day time period, the judgment creditor must wait until the appeal or motion is decided by the court before trying to collect the judgment.

In the case of a default judgment which resulted from improper service, you should file your motion as soon as possible within the 180-day period. This is because the judgment creditor can start collecting as soon as the 30-day waiting period has passed.

If you pay the money right away, there are certain things that both you and the judgment creditor need to do.

If you do NOT PAY the money right away, your wages, money, and property may be taken without further warning from the court.

After the trial hearing, the court clerk will mail you a Notice of Entry of Judgment (Form SC-130), which states that the small claims case has been decided – and who won and lost.

NOTE: The person who won the case is now called the “judgment creditor.”
If you lost the case, you are now called the “judgment debtor.”

If you are the judgment debtor, you may have two questions right away:

  • I missed my court hearing. Can I ask for another?
  • How can I appeal the judgment?

If the court says that you have to pay the judgment creditor money, probably you will pay the money right away. As soon as you pay your judgment debt in full, the judgment creditor needs to:

  1. Fill out the short form on the back of the Notice of Entry of Judgment (Form SC- 130), called the “Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment.”
  2. File the form with the court.
  3. Serve you with a copy of the Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment.

If you do NOT PAY the money right away, your wages, money, and property may be taken without further warning from the court. To learn what you, as the judgment debtor, can do for yourself, click on one of the links below.

TIP: Organize Your File on Paying the Judgment

Other questions:

  • How to Provide Information about Your Finances
  • How Can I Ask to Pay in Installments?
  • How Can I Ask to Pay the Court Instead of the Creditor?
  • How Can I Protect My Property from Collection?
  • How Can I Protect My Wages from Collection?
  • How Do I Get Proof of Payment in Full?
  • How Can I Update My Credit Report?

If you, the defendant, did not appear at your hearing the court will probably have entered a default judgment against you. This means you lost the case.

If you had a very good reason why you did not show up, you may file a motion to ask the court to cancel (“vacate”) this judgment and hold another hearing.
(See California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 116.730)

How long you have to file this motion depends on whether or not you were
properly served.

  • If you were properly served and did not appear, you have 30 days from the date the court mailed the Notice of Entry of Judgment (Form SC-130) to file your request.
  • If you were improperly served (for example, the plaintiff had an incorrect name for you) and did not appear, you have 180 days from the date you knew, or should have known that the judgment was entered against you, to file your request.

TIP: The judgment creditor can start collecting the judgment debt after 30 days have passed from the date the court mailed you the Notice of Entry of Judgment (Form SC-130), so it is good to act quickly, even if you have 180 days to file.

To ask the court to cancel (“vacate”) the judgment

Step 1. Get and fill out 1 court form:

  • Notice of Motion to Vacate Judgment and Declaration (Form SC-135)

Make at least 2 copies of the form – one to serve on the judgment creditor, and one copy for your own files.

Step 2. File the form at the court and pay the court’s filing fee.

  • The court clerk will give you a date for the hearing,
  • The court clerk will mail a copy of the Notice of Motion to Vacate Judgment (Form SC-135) to the other side.

Step 3. Attend the hearing on the Motion to Vacate the Judgment.

At the hearing on the Motion to Vacate the Judgment, the judge will decide whether or not to cancel the judgment.

Bring proof of why you couldn’t go to your first hearing -- for example, a letter from a doctor or a hospital bill.

  • If the judge decides to cancel the judgment, he or she may immediately hold a new trial. Be prepared to defend your case.
    • Bring evidence or witnesses you need to prove your case.
    • Be fully prepared to tell your side of the story.
  • If the judge decides not to cancel the judgment (called “denial of the motion”), it is possible to appeal this decision.
    • You have 10 days to file an appeal.
    • To do this, fill out and file a Notice of Appeal (Form SC-140)

Contact the Small Claims Advisor in your county for more information.

If you are the defendant, attended the hearing and lost the case, you may appeal the judgment. (Your insurance company can also file an appeal if it is asked to pay more than $2,500.00)

In small claims, an appeal is a hearing of the whole case again, held in Superior Court in front of a different judge. Therefore, the judgment may be very different from the original judgment.

NOTE: You (or your insurance company) must ask for an appeal within 30 days from the date the court mailed out the Notice of Entry of Judgment.

To ask for an appeal of the case:

Step 1. Get and fill out 1 court form:

  • Notice of Appeal (Form SC-140)

Make at least 2 copies of the form – one to serve on the judgment creditor, and one copy for your own files.

Step 2. File the form at the court and pay the court’s filing fee.

  • The court clerk will give you a date for the new hearing.
  • The court clerk will mail a copy of the Notice of Appeal (Form SC-140) to the other party.

Step 3. Attend the new hearing.

At the appellate hearing, the new judge will hear the case from the beginning. Each side will be expected to tell his or her side of the story again.

  • The same documents may be presented.
  • The same witnesses may be called.
  • The same arguments may be used. Or,
  • You may add or change documents, witnesses or arguments.

NOTE 1: Legally, either party may use an attorney during the appeal process.

NOTE 2: If you filed a counterclaim against the plaintiff, your case will also be heard again at the same time.

At the end of the new trial, the new judge will make a decision about the case.

  • He or she may agree with the decision of the first judge, that the plaintiff should win the case, and the amount of money owed remains the same, OR
  • He or she may overturn the decision of the first judge, and decide that the defendant owes more, less, or no money to the plaintiff.

Once an appeal has been decided, the parties cannot file a second appeal of
the case.

First, organize all of the paperwork leading up to your trial, put it in a file folder and keep it in a safe place. You may need the information later. Then, make a new file on paying the judgment.

If you are paying the judgment in installments

1. Keep a list of all of the payments you have made with the:

  • Amount
  • Type of payment (personal check, cashier’s check or money order – and the number of the check, etc.)
  • Date paid
  • Address of payment
  • Date cashed if payment was by personal check, cashier’s check or money order.

TIP: It is best not to pay cash. If you do pay cash, get a receipt signed by the judgment creditor which includes the amount paid and when and where the payment was made.

2. Keep receipts or copies of all checks or money order payments you have made.

NOTE: Every time you pay any money on the judgment, the creditor has to file an Acknowledgement of Satisfaction of Judgment (Form EJ-001) with the court and send you a copy. Make a list with the dates the creditor filed each Form EJ-001 and keep the copies.

3. Keep a list of all the types of collection efforts the creditor has made, the dates made, and when they end. Write down who, what, where, and when the creditor tried to collect the money judgment, so that you know what you have done already or need to do.

For example:

  • Abstract of Judgment on my house (with the date noted);
  • Bank levy on my accounts;
  • Wages garnished, amount garnished, beginning on _____; ending on _______.

4. If you filed a Claim of Exemption (Form EJ-160), you should keep track of important dates.

For example:

  • Filed Claim of Exemption on ________ with sheriff
  • Creditor filed Notice of Opposition to Claim of Exemption on _______. The hearing date is __________;
  • Amount I pay __________ every payday. (Amount your employer deducts from your paychecks.)

Learn more about Claims of Exemption.

5. Keep a copy of any court order renewing the judgment.

Learn more about how a judgment is renewed.

Do anything else that will help you to stay organized. If you are unable to pay all of the judgment debt now, the creditor can keep pursuing the matter for years until he or she gets paid in full.

NOTE: Remember that the creditor may legally add interest and costs to the amount you owe.

  • The creditor will be able to get interest in the amount of 10% per year on the money you owe – usually from the date the court entered the judgment against you until it is paid off.
  • The creditor may also add the costs of collecting the judgment to the judgment debt.
    (See California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 685.070)

You must fill out a Judgment Debtor's Statement of Assets (Form SC-133) and send it to the judgment creditor within 30 days from the date the Notice of Entry of Judgment is mailed by the court. You must do this unless:

  • you paid the judgment debt or
  • you appealed the case or
  • you filed a motion to vacate the judgment.

SC-133 gives the judgment creditor information about your:

  • Employment
  • Cash and bank deposits
  • Property (including real estate)
  • Personal Property
  • And other information.

    NOTE: If you do not send the information required on time, the judgment creditor may ask the court to order you to do a debtor's examination.

If you are ordered to appear for a debtor’s examination, there are very serious consequences if you do not show up in court as ordered, or if you lie during the examination.

  • If you don’t show up for the debtor’s examination, the court can issue a bench warrant for your arrest and/or fine you up to $500.
  • If you appear and lie, you may be in contempt of court, which may result in answering in front of the judge, paying a fine of up to $500 and/or being arrested and put in jail.

Learn more about debtors’ examinations.

In a small claims case, a person who loses the case may ask the court if the payments ordered can be made in installments, over time.

DURING the court trial hearing, you can ask the judge to allow you to make payments of a specific amount of money each week or each month.

If the judge agrees with you, the judgment will include the order allowing you to pay
in installments – with information about the amount of payments, the dates due, and where to payments are to be made – besides the total amount of the judgment.

AFTER the court hearing, if you did not ask for time payments in court, you can take the following steps.

Step 1. Get and fill out 2 court forms:

  • Request to Pay Judgment in Installments (Form SC-220)
  • Financial Statement (Form WG-007/EJ-165)

Make at least 2 copies of both forms – one to serve on the judgment creditor, and one copy for your own files.

Step 2. File the forms at court and pay the court’s filing fee.

The court clerk will mail a copy of your Request to Pay Judgment in Installments (Form SC-220) to the judgment creditor.

NOTE 1: The judgment creditor has 10 days to let the court know if he or she will accept your request to make your payments in installments.

NOTE 2: If the judgment creditor does NOT want to accept installment payments from you, the court may hold a special hearing for the judge to decide.

The court will mail each side a copy of its decision which will state whether or not it will allow you to pay over time. If it does allow you to pay in installments, it will state how much money is due, when it is due, where to pay, and how often you must pay.

If you miss a payment, the balance of money that you owe on the judgment will become due immediately. The judgment creditor may file a declaration with the court stating that you did not make the payment, and then proceed to use all legal means to collect the judgment debt.

Normally, in a small claims case the person who loses the case has to pay the person who won the case directly. However, there may be times when the judgment debtor does not want to deal with the creditor, or the debtor may not know where the creditor is located. If there is a good reason, the court may accept payment and then notify the judgment creditor.

To ask the court if you can pay it instead of the other party

Step 1. Get and fill out 1 court form:

  • Request to Pay Judgment to Court (Form SC-145)

Make at least 2 copies of the form – one to serve on the judgment creditor, and one copy for your own files.

Step 2. File the form at court and pay the court’s filing fee.

  • If you have already paid part of the judgment when you file this request, be sure to attach:
    • a copy of both sides of the canceled check or money order, or
    • a copy of the cash receipt, dated and signed by the creditor.

NOTE: In addition to the amount of money still owed on the judgment, you may have to pay:

  • Costs the other party had to pay in this case (if awarded by the court);
  • Any interest due on the judgment from the date the court entered the judgment.
  • The court fee for using this service. (Call the court and ask how much this will cost.)
  • Include a personal check, cashier’s check or money order for the amount owed made out to the court (not to the other party).
    • If you pay by personal check, the court will not consider the judgment paid until 30 days have passed.

If the amount you are paying does NOT cover everything owed, the court clerk will check the “Full satisfaction of judgment NOT entered…” box at the bottom of page 1 of the Request to Pay Judgment to Court and write the reason the payment is not complete.

If the amount you are paying DOES cover everything owed, the court clerk will check the “Full satisfaction…” box at the bottom of page 1. A copy of this is your receipt that you have paid the judgment in full. Keep your copy in a safe place.

The court clerk will then mail a copy of the Request to Pay Judgment to Court (Form SC-145) to the judgment creditor. It will ask the creditor to come to the court and pick up the payment or sign the form and mail it back to court for the payment to be mailed to him or her.

You may be able to protect some or all of your property from being taken to pay the judgment.

It may be possible to protect some property that you need to live like:

  • your car,
  • tools of the trade, and
  • certain other personal property.

This information is listed in a court form: Exemptions from the Enforcement of Judgments (Form EJ-155).

Find the Current Dollar Amounts of Exemptions from Enforcement of Judgments.

Some of your assets are automatically protected. The court has to decide about other assets.

If you receive a copy of the Writ of Execution on property that you think is exempt, take the following steps within 10 days.

Step 1. Fill out a:

  • Claim of Exemption (Form EJ-160)

List the property you believe is exempt, using the Code and Section numbers you found on Exemptions from the Enforcement of Judgments (Form EJ-155).

NOTE: If the claim is for property you need to support yourself, you need to ALSO fill out a Financial Statement (Form WG-007/EJ-165).

Make at least 2 copies of the form(s).

Step 2. Give the original(s) and one copy of the form(s) to the levying officer. Keep one copy of the Claim of Exemption, and the Financial Statement, if used, for your own files.

Step 3. The levying officer will serve the judgment creditor with a copy of the Claim of Exemption (and Financial Statement, if used).

The court will decide which assets are protected from collection, and will send its judgment to you and the judgment creditor by mail.

The judgment creditor has time to object to your Claim of Exemption. They have 10 days if the Claim was served in person; 15 days if it was served by mail.

To object, the judgment creditor files two forms with the court:

  • a Notice of Opposition to the Claim of Exception (Form EJ-10), and
  • a Notice of Hearing on Claim of Exemption (Form EJ-175).

The judgment creditor must serve you with copies of these forms.

The judgment creditor must also give the levying officer copies of these forms. The levying officer will then file your Claim of Exemption and Financial Statement with the court for the hearing.

The court must hold a hearing on your Claim and the judgment creditor’s Opposition within 20 days from the date the judgment creditor filed the Opposition papers.

Go to the hearing prepared with any documents that prove why your money or other property should not be taken.

You may be able to protect some of your wages from being taken to pay the judgment.

This information is listed in a court form: Exemptions from the Enforcement of Judgments (Form EJ-155).

Workers' compensation, unemployment, pensions, social security, welfare, or insurance payments are automatically protected and cannot be taken to satisfy a judgment.

Some of your wages are automatically protected. Sometimes you have to ask the court to decide whether the rest of your wages are exempt.

If the judgment creditor has filed a Writ of Execution on your wages:

Within 10 days of receiving the Earnings Withholding Order (Form WG-002):

Step 1. Fill out 3 forms:

  • Claim of Exemption (Wage Garnishment) (Form WG-006)
  • Financial Statement (Form WG-007/EJ-165)
  • Notice of Filing of Claim of Exemption (Form WG-008)

Make at least 2 copies of the forms.

Step 2. Give the originals and one copy of the Claim of Exemption, the Financial Statement and the Notice of Filing of Claim of Exemption to the levying officer. Keep one copy of each form for your own files.

Step 3. The levying officer will serve the judgment creditor with a copy of the Claim of Exemption, the Financial Statement, and the Notice of Filing of Claim of Exemption.

The court will decide which assets and how much of your earnings are protected from collection. The court will send its judgment to you and the judgment creditor by mail.

The judgment creditor has time to object to your Claim of Exemption:

  • 10 days if the Claim was served in person;
  • 15 days if the Claim was served by mail.

The judgment creditor objects by filing three forms with the court:

  • a Notice of Opposition to the Claim of Exception (Form WG-009),
  • a Notice of Hearing on Claim of Exemption (Form WG-010), and
  • an Order Determining Claim of Exemption (Form WG-011).

The judgment creditor must serve you with copies of these forms.

The judgment creditor must also give the levying officer copies of these forms. The levying officer will then file your Claim of Exemption (and Financial Statement) with the court for the hearing.

The court must hold a hearing on your Claim and the judgment creditor’s Opposition within 20 days from the date the judgment creditor filed the Opposition papers.

Go to the hearing prepared with any documents that prove why your wages should not be taken. For example, take your pay stubs, receipts of your living expenses, etc. You should prove to the court the amounts in the Financial Statement you filed with the levying officer.

After you have paid your judgment debt in full, the judgment creditor must file a form with the court within 15 days. This form lets the court know that the debt is clear.

  • If there were no liens on your property, the creditor can use the Notice of Entry of Judgment (Form SC-130). They will complete the “Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment” section on the bottom of Page 2.
  • If there were liens on your property, the creditor must use the Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment (Form EJ-100).

The creditor must serve you with an endorsed copy of the form for your records so that you have proof that the debt was paid in full.

NOTE: If the creditor uses Form SC-130, he or she will serve you with endorsed copies of both the Form SC-130 and a “Certificate of Satisfaction” from the court.

IF you have not received an endorsed copy of the appropriate form for your records, write to the creditor asking them to file the appropriate form at court. Also ask the creditor to serve you with an endorsed copy of the form, either in person or by mail. Keep a copy of the letter you sent.

If the creditor doesn’t respond within 15 days of your request, you can ask the court clerk to enter a Satisfaction of Judgment.

In order to do this, you must file with the court clerk:

  • Proof that you paid the judgment by:
    • Canceled check, cashier’s check or money order cashed by the creditor, or
    • A receipt for payment signed by the creditor.

      And
  • A written declaration that you paid the judgment and that either:
    • The creditor refuses to file an appropriate Satisfaction of Judgment form, or
    • You are unable to locate the creditor.

NOTE: You may use the court form entitled Declaration (Form MC-030).

Once you have an endorsed copy of an Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment, make copies of it in case you have to update your credit record.

To update your credit report:

Step 1. Get at least 4 certified copies of the Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment (Form EJ-100).

NOTE: Usually, a certified copy of the Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment is all you need. However, sometimes you may need a Certificate of Satisfaction from the court to prove that you have paid the judgment. For information on obtaining a Certificate of Satisfaction from the court, contact the Small Claims Advisor in your county.

Step 2. Mail a letter to each of the major credit reporting companies informing them that you paid the judgment in full.

  • Attach one of the certified copies of the Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment to each letter.
  • The major credit reporting companies are Equifax, Experian and Transunion.

Step 3. Keep a copy of the letters for your file.

The credit reporting companies will note that the judgment is paid. However, reference to the court case will usually remain on your credit report for up to 7 years or more.