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 judgment creditor. The party who owes the money is a 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 got 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:

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, but you may not have to pay the fee if you have a low income. You may file an Application to Waive Filing Fees with the court. The clerk will decide if you qualify for the fee waiver based on the Federal Poverty Guidelines.

Once you file your motion and pay the filing fee (or receive a fee waiver), 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
  • 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 Motion for Contempt

Motion for a Financial Disclosure Hearing

A financial disclosure hearing can be helpful if you do not know where the defendant works or what property the defendant owns. It allows you to ask for information about the defendant's ability to pay. If the judge concludes that the defendant does have the ability to pay but the defendant still does not pay, you can ask the judge to find the defendant in contempt.

A judgment for the full amount of the payment is considered overdue if it is unpaid 30 days after the court order. An installment judgment is overdue if a scheduled payment is late by 30 days or more. If a judgment is overdue, you may file a Motion for a Financial Disclosure Hearing with the clerk. You can't file this type of motion for more often than once in three months.

You should file your motion with the court clerk and mail a copy to the defendant. You should also file a Certificate of Service with the court to show that you mailed the motion to the defendant.

There is a fee to file this motion but you may not have to pay the fee if you have a low income. You may file an Application to Waive Filing Fees with the court. The clerk will decide if you qualify for the fee waiver based on the Federal Poverty Guidelines.

Once the clerk gets your motion, the clerk will set a date and time for a hearing. The clerk will also send certain documents to the parties:

  • Notice of the date and time of the hearing
  • A Financial Disclosure Affidavit for the debtor
  • A List of Exemptions for income and assets

If, after a hearing, the judge concludes that the judgment or installment is overdue and that the defendant can pay, the judge will order the defendant to make payments. If the defendant does not go to the hearing or does not fully disclose their finances, the judge may order full payment right away.

If the court orders payment, it may ask the defendant to accept service of the order right after the hearing. If that doesn’t happen, then you must send a copy of the order to the defendant by first-class mail and file with the court a Certificate of Service showing that you mailed the order.

If the court concludes that the defendant does not have the ability to pay, you probably will not be able to recover any money until the defendant’s financial situation changes.

Motion for Contempt

If the court concludes that the defendant has the ability to pay, you have notified the defendant of the order, but the defendant still does not pay the money due, then you may file a written Motion for Civil Contempt with the clerk. In this written statement to the court, you should say how much, if anything, the defendant has paid.

There is a fee to file this motion but you may not have to pay the fee if you have a low income. You may file an Application to Waive Filing Fees with the court. The clerk will decide if you qualify for the fee waiver based on the Federal Poverty Guidelines.

The court will set a hearing date and will issue a judicial summons requiring the defendant to come to a hearing to show why they should not be held in contempt of court.

You must have this judicial summons served on the defendant by a sheriff or constable. You will save money by contacting a sheriff or constable located near the person you are trying to serve. You can find the contact information for every sheriff in the state online. There is no statewide list of constables in Vermont. If you want to send the documents to the sheriff or constable by mail, call the sheriff or constable in advance to find out how to do that. Each one has their own process.

Once the defendant is served, you must file a return of service with the court. This must happen no later than the day of the hearing.

If the defendant does not appear at the hearing, the court may find the defendant in contempt. If the defendant does come to the hearing, the court will consider the evidence and decide whether to issue another order requiring payment or whether to hold the defendant in contempt.

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 $75,000 homestead exemption to protect the debtor from losing their home.

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 20 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 20 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 20 days, the court will document that the judgment has been paid. If the plaintiff objects, the court will set a hearing.