In most states, the judge may order that the loser be allowed to pay the winner in installments over a period of time, rather than all at once. The judge normally won't make this sort of order unless you request it. Be sure the judge knows that if you lose, you wish to pay in installments. You might put your request this way:
- "In closing my presentation, I would like to say that I believe I have a convincing case and should be awarded the judgment, but in the event that you rule for my opponent, I would like you to allow me time payments of no more than [an amount convenient to you] per month."
Or, if you have no real defense:
- "Your Honor, I request that you enter the judgment against me for no more than [an amount convenient to you] per month."
If you neglect to ask for time payments in court and wish to make this request after you receive the judgment, first contact the other party to see whether the person will voluntarily agree to accept the money on a schedule under which you can afford to pay. If the other party agrees, it is wise to write your agreement down and each sign it. Some courts also have a form for you to fill out. (See "Sample Letter to Judge Requesting Installment Payments," below.)
If your opponent is an all-or-nothing sort of person and refuses payments, promptly contact the court clerk and ask that the case again be brought before the judge–not as to the facts, but only to set up a payment schedule you can live with. The clerk should arrange things for you, but if there is a problem, write a letter like this one to the judge:
Sample Letter to Judge Requesting Installment Payments
October 17, 20xx
Honorable Felix Hamburg
Re: Elliot v. Toller
Index No. __________
Dear Judge Hamburg:
I recently appeared before you in the case of Elliot v. Toller (Index No. ________). Mr. Elliot was awarded a judgment in the amount of $526. Paying this amount all at once would be nearly impossible because of [state reason, such as lack of employment or illness]. I can pay $25 per month.
Please change the order in this case to allow for a $25 per month payment. If it is necessary for me to make this request in court, please inform me of the time I should be present.
In some states, the judgment debtor may pay the amount of the judgment directly to the small claims court, which will then notify the judgment creditor. This procedure is helpful for a judgment debtor who doesn't want to deal directly with the prevailing party or doesn't know the person's current address. Contact your small claims clerk to find out whether your court has a direct pay procedure.
Notify the court when you move. It's important to keep your current address on file if you've won a lawsuit but haven't yet been paid. That way, you won't miss out on your money in a situation where the losing party pays the court and the court can't find you.