There are several ways that you can try to collect your money.

A plaintiff who gets a judgment (or a defendant who filed a counterclaim and gets a judgment on that counterclaim) is called the creditor or judgment creditor. The party who owes the money is called the debtor or judgment debtor. In the instructions below, we call the judgment debtor—the one who owes money—the defendant and the judgment creditor—the one who is owed money — the plaintiff.

If you are a plaintiff, and the defendant does not pay you what the court ordered, you can choose one or more options to try to collect the money awarded by the judge. Whether you succeed may depend on the defendant’s financial situation and willingness to pay. No method is guaranteed. In deciding what to do, you should think about the time and money you may have to put into collecting, and balance that with the likelihood of recovering any money from the defendant. You should also consider the List of Exemptions because it may affect your ability to collect from the defendant. By law, there are some financial assets that may not be used as payment in a small claims case, and no one goes to jail for failure to pay a judgment.

Remember that your judgment is good for eight years. If you still have not received your money and want to keep trying to collect it, then before the eight years runs out you need to file a new case asking the court to renew the judgment for another eight years.

The main options for collecting a judgment are below.

 

Related Pages

Suing and Being Sued | Small Claims Hearings and Appeals

 

Not finding what you're looking for? Email us: jud.selfhelp@vermont.gov.

Option 1: Trustee Process

If the defendant gets regular wages and you know where the defendant works, you can ask for a court order requiring the defendant's employer to deduct money from the defendant's paycheck to pay you directly. This method is the most likely to succeed.

If the judgment is not paid within 30 days, and there isn’t an appeal, you can file a Motion for Trustee Process Against Earnings. You will need the name and address of the defendant's employer, who is the trustee in this process. You must have the affidavit in this motion notarized.

There is a fee to file this motion. If you can't afford the filing fees, you can ask the court to consider waiving them. See the Application to Waive Filing Fees and Service Costs web page for more information and forms.

Once you file your motion, the clerk will schedule a hearing.

The court will send you an original Trustee Summons and two copies of the Summons. You should then give two sets of the following documents to a sheriff or constable to serve on (deliver to) both the defendant and the trustee:

  • A Trustee Summons (from the court)
  • A copy of your Motion for Trustee Process
  • A copy of the notice of hearing from the court listing the date and time of the hearing
  • A Trustee Disclosure of Earnings form
    (100-00508)
  • A List of Exemptions
    (100-00511)

You will save money by working with a sheriff or a constable located near the defendant. You can find the contact information or every sheriff in the state online. There is no online list of contact information for all of the constables in Vermont. ("Sheriff" in this section refers to either a sheriff or a constable.)

If you want to mail the documents to the sheriff, call the sheriff in advance to find out how to do that. Each sheriff has their own process. You can also personally take the documents to the sheriff.

The cost of having the sheriff serve the documents may be added to the amount of your claim.

You must have the sheriff serve the documents on the defendant and the trustee at least 14 days before the hearing date. The sheriff will give you a completed return of service proving that the documents were served. You must file that with the court.

The employer must either attend the hearing or complete the Trustee Disclosure of Earnings form and file it with the court at least three days before the hearing.

At the hearing the parties and the employer can explain their positions. The court will consider:

  • Whether both the defendant and the employer got served with the notice of hearing
  • Whether the defendant has failed to pay the money due
  • The amount of the judgment that remains unpaid
  • The amount of the defendant’s weekly earnings
  • Whether the employer filed a disclosure

If the court decides to grant the Motion for Trustee Process, it will issue an order telling the employer how much to withhold from the defendant’s paycheck, how often, and where to send the money to you. If the employer was served but did not file any disclosure, you can ask the court to order the employer to pay the judgment.

The court will not order wage withholding if the defendant got government benefits (assistance from the Vermont Department of Prevention, Assistance, Transition, and Health Access) in the two months before the hearing. There are other limits on when a court can order an employer to withhold wages and how much the court can order the employer to withhold.

There are other kinds of trustee processes to get the money the defendant owes from someone who holds the defendant's money, such as a bank where the defendant has a bank account. The rules for different trustee processes are in Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 4.2. Click the link, scroll down to “Rules of Civil Procedure,” then click on “Commencement of Action,” then click “Rule 4.2.” This process is complicated. You may want to contact a lawyer if you are considering this.

Option 2: Motion for Financial Disclosure Hearing and Contempt Hearing

Motion for a Financial Disclosure Hearing

The debtor has 30 days from the day the judgment was entered against them to pay the creditor what they owe.

  • A lump sum judgment is paid all at once. It is overdue if it has been more than 30 days since the judgment was entered.
  • An installment judgment is paid over time. It is overdue if a scheduled payment is 30 or more days late.

It can be helpful to the creditor find out what assets the debtor has. One way to do that is to request a financial disclosure hearing.

 

Asking for a Financial Disclosure Hearing

Fill out and file these forms to ask for a financial disclosure hearing:

  • Motion for a Financial Disclosure Hearing (100-00279)
  • Certificate of Service - Small Claims (100-00260)

Forms are available at the bottom of this page.

There is a fee to ask for the hearing. See the Civil Division section of the Fees web page. Look for the post-judgment motion fee under Small Claims Fees for the amount. If the filer can't afford the fee, they can ask to have it waived. See the Application to Waive Filing Fees web page for more information and the application form.

 

Serving the Debtor

After the creditor files the motion, the clerk will set a date and time for a hearing. If the debtor has given the court their address within the last year, the court will send these documents to the debtor:

  • Notice of the date and time of the hearing
  • Financial Disclosure Affidavit (100-00127)
  • List of Exemptions (100-00511)

If the address the court has for the debtor is more than a year old, the creditor must arrange to have a sheriff or constable serve these documents on the debtor at least 14 days before the hearing:

  • Motion for a Financial Disclosure Hearing (100-00279)
  • Certificate of Service - Small Claims (100-00260)
  • Notice of the date and time of the hearing
  • Financial Disclosure Affidavit (100-00127)
  • List of Exemptions (100-00511)

Forms are available at the bottom of this page.

If the debtor is in Vermont, contact a Vermont sheriff or constable near the debtor.  Contact information for Vermont sheriffs is provided on the Vermont Sheriffs' Association website. There is no statewide list of Vermont constables.

 

Debtor's Rights and Responsibilities

The debtor should carefully read all the documents they were served.

Vermont law protects some property and income from being taken by creditors. These are called exemptions. The debtor should review the List of Exemptions document to see what income and property are protected. The creditor can't take exempt property or force the debtor to sell it. The creditor can't make the debtor pay a debt with exempt income.

The debtor must fill out the Financial Disclosure Affidavit and either bring the completed form to the hearing or, if they will attend the hearing by phone or video, give a copy to the creditor and the court at least 3 days before the hearing.

 

At the Hearing

At the hearing the debtor must answer questions under oath about their income, expenses, and assets such as bank accounts, vehicles and real property. The judge uses the information to decide if the debtor is able to pay the judgment.

  • If the judge decides the debtor can afford to pay the judgment, the judge will order them to make payment.
  • If the judge decides the debtor can't afford to pay the judgment, the creditor probably won't be able to collect the judgment unless the debtor's financial situation changes.

The creditor must wait at least one year before they can ask for another financial disclosure hearing. The time period can be waived if the creditor can show the court there has been a "material change" in the debtor's financial situation. This means there has been a big improvement in their financial situation. For example, a new well-paying job, an inheritance, or lottery winnings.

  • If the debtor does not go to the hearing, or does not provide all of their financial information at the hearing, the judge can reschedule (continue) the hearing. If the judgment was an installment judgment, the judge can order the debtor to make full payment right away.

 

Serving the Order

If the judge orders payment at the hearing, they may ask the debtor to "accept service" of the order. This means the debtor acknowledges they received a copy of the order.  

If the debtor refuses to accept service or if they did not come to the hearing, the creditor must send a copy of the order to the debtor by first class mail. The creditor must also file a Certificate of Service form with the court.

The financial disclosure hearing process is governed by Vermont Rule of Small Claims Procedure 7.

 

Contempt Hearing

If the debtor does not come to the financial disclosure hearing and the court does not issue a payment order, the court can schedule a contempt hearing.

At the contempt hearing the debtor must explain why they did not come to the financial disclosure hearing and, and the judge will decide whether they should be held in contempt for missing the hearing.

 

Serving the Debtor

If the court schedules a contempt hearing, it will issue a judicial summons. Within 7 days of receiving the judicial summons from the court, the creditor must arrange to have a sheriff or constable serve these documents on the debtor:

  • Judicial Summons – Small Claims
  • Financial Disclosure Affidavit (100-00127)
  • List of Exemptions (100-00511)

Forms are available at the bottom of this page.

If the debtor is in Vermont, contact a Vermont sheriff or constable near the debtor. Contact information for Vermont sheriffs is provided on the Vermont Sheriffs' Association website. There is no statewide list of Vermont constables.

The creditor must file a return of service with the court before the start of the hearing.

 

At the Contempt Hearing

If the debtor does not come to the contempt hearing, the court can hold them in contempt. The penalties for contempt are:

  • Authorizing the creditor to obtain a credit report on the debtor, or
  • Adding a financial penalty to the judgment, in addition to filing and serving costs.

If the debtor does come to the contempt hearing, the court will proceed with a financial disclosure hearing.

The small claims contempt process is governed by Vermont Rule of Small Claims Procedure 8.

Option 3: Judgment Lien

If the defendant owns land or buildings in Vermont, this method is likely to work in the long term. You may record a judgment lien against the defendant’s property any time within eight years of the date the judgment becomes final. If you want to continue the judgment lien beyond that time, you have to renew it before the end of the eight years.

In order to record a judgment lien, you must buy a certified copy of the judgment from the court clerk. Then you must file the certified copy with the town clerk in the land records in the town where the defendant owns property.

The court clerk will charge you a fee for the certified record of the judgment. The town clerk will also charge a fee for recording the judgment in the land records.

Some defendants may choose to pay you in order to remove the lien. Those who do not may have to pay you in the future if they want to sell or transfer their property. In most cases, a debtor is entitled to a homestead exemption to protect them from losing their home. See the List of Exemptions in the Forms section below for the amount of the exemption.

What Happens Once a Judgment Is Paid

If you are the plaintiff and the defendant fully pays the judgment, you must notify the court within 21 days. You can file a Notification by Plaintiff (Judgment Creditor) That Judgment Has Been Paid in Full. The clerk will then document that the judgment has been paid.

If you are a defendant and the plaintiff does not notify the court in writing within 21 days of your paying off the judgment, you may ask the court to acknowledge and document that the judgment has been paid. There is no filing fee for this request. The court will notify the plaintiff of the request. Unless the plaintiff objects in writing within 21 days, the court will document that the judgment has been paid. If the plaintiff objects, the court will set a hearing.