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How Do I Collect a Family Law Judgement in California?

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When couples get a divorce, they draft a marital settlement or divorce agreement that is approved and signed off by the judge. Such agreements will have detailed provisions about the dividing of marital assets, dividing debts, spousal support, and so on.

As with any divorce or family law matter, it’s not uncommon for one spouse to agree to or be ordered by a judge to pay the other spouse money. Such money can be for uncovered medical expenses for the children, dental expenses, child support, and so on.

Once a court issues a judgment against one spouse, he or she is expected to pay what they owe to their ex, but what if they don’t? What legal recourse does the parent who is owed the money have? If such an order (a family law money judgment) is made and your ex fails to pay it, you have to collect the money yourself. The family court will NOT collect the money on your behalf.

What Options Do I Have?

If your former spouse owes you money and there is a judgment, you can only start collecting the judgment if the judgment was entered, and there isn’t any kind of a stay (a postponement or a suspension on enforcing the order because there is an appeal), a bankruptcy filing, or another type of legal action that would bar you from collecting.

Initial steps you can start taking to collect:

  • Give your ex the address where he or she can send you their payment.
  • If you want, you can offer to accept less from your ex than the full balance if they send you the money right away. However, if you agree to take less than the full amount, you lose the right to collect the rest of what your ex owes you.
  • You can agree to accept weekly, bi-weekly or monthly payments.
  • If your ex fails to pay you by the date stipulated in the court order, you can write your former spouse a letter and attach a copy of the court order. Include a letter that says that if they fail to pay you, you’ll take more serious steps to collect the money if they don’t pay you voluntarily.
  • You should speak with an attorney at our firm. If your ex refuses to pay you, collection can be complicated and expensive, not to mention time-consuming.

Avoid Using Illegal Methods for Collection

Generally, there are legal and illegal ways to collect a debt from a debtor. As a rule, debtors have legal protections against abusive, unfair and unscrupulous debt collection practices. If you engage in deceitful, harassing, or unethical tactics to collect the debt, you could be breaking the law and you could get into trouble.

While trying to collect the money your ex owes you, do NOT:

  • Call them non-stop
  • Call them early in the morning or late at night (before 8:00 AM or after 9:00 PM)
  • Harass him or her
  • Threaten them
  • Call their work and discuss the debt with their boss or a co-worker (the only exception is when the court issues an earnings withholding order)
  • Use foul or abusive language

How Can I Get My Ex to Pay Voluntarily?

Hopefully, you’ll be able to convince your former spouse to pay you voluntarily without having to take more serious steps. Some of the ways you can encourage your ex to pay you voluntarily include writing them a letter, helping them find assets to satisfy the judgment, being flexible about their payment terms, and accepting installment payments.

If you choose to write a letter (a good first step), you can state that if he or she does not pay you, that the amount they owe you will increase daily since family law judgments are subject to 10% interest per a year. You can also notify him or her that credit reporting agencies know about family law judgments since people’s names appear in what’s called a court’s “Judgment Roll.”

When Your Ex Won’t Pay

Do you have a particularly spiteful ex? Perhaps he or she has the money to pay you, but they’re determined not to. Or, perhaps they keep giving you the excuse that they don’t have the money. In any case, if your ex continues not to pay you despite your attempts to obtain what they owe you, you can ask the court for:

  • A wage assignment, also known as a “wage garnishment,” and even perhaps against their new domestic partner or spouse,
  • A levy against his or her bank account, and
  • A lien on their personal property, personal residence, or other property they own, such as vacant land, etc.

Perhaps your ex is a good person and the reality is that he or she cannot afford to pay you. If that’s the case, there are other ways you can help. You can encourage him or her to think outside the box by having them consider other sources, such as an income tax refund, taking out a personal loan, refinancing their mortgage, having a garage sale, auctioning some personal items online, selling their expensive car and getting a more affordable one, withdrawing from their 401(k) account, or taking out a cash advance from their credit card.

Sometimes, all it takes is a little flexibility. If you’re willing to accept weekly or monthly payments, accept less than what your ex owes, let your ex do work for you or on the property instead of paying you money, it may work instead.

If your ex is currently unemployed, perhaps you can help them find a job so they can start paying you back sooner. However, if you’re a victim of domestic violence, some of this advice may not be practical. Our advice is to meet with an attorney from our firm if you’re not sure which route to take.

Next: 3 Rules for Dating After Divorce


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