Enforcing a judgment
After the court has made a civil judgment (including a default judgment), the next step is for the judgment to be followed.
The judgment creditor is the person who is owed money under a court judgment. The judgment debtor is the person who the judgment was made against, and who owes money to the judgment creditor.
If the judgment debtor does not voluntarily follow a judgment and pay money to the judgment creditor (or do whatever else the judgment says should happen), the judgment creditor can apply to the court for orders to have the judgment enforced.
Quick Answers Video: Enforcing a civil law judgment
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There are different ways the court can enforce a judgment. It could be to order the judgment debtor to pay the judgment in full by a certain date, or by regular instalments over time. The court also has the power to have money taken directly from someone's wages and paid to the judgment creditor, until the whole amount has been paid. The court can only make those kinds of orders once it has held a means inquiry, to find out how much money the judgment debtor has.
The court can also make an order for the bailiff to sell the judgment debtor's property and give the money to the judgment creditor. If someone does not comply with enforcement orders or tries to interfere with the bailiff taking property under a court order, they could end up in serious trouble with the court.
The costs involved in having a judgment enforced can be added to what the judgment creditor is owed. Find out:
- what are enforcement proceedings
- what is a means inquiry
- what happens at the means inquiry
- does the judgment debtor have to go to a means inquiry
- what is a property (seizure and sale) order
- what if the judgment debtor wants to dispute the debt
- how to lodge an enforcement application.
What are enforcement proceedings?
If the court has made an order that someone owes you money and they still do not pay, you may want to start 'enforcement proceedings'. There are two common ways of doing this:
- by a means inquiry so the court can then make other orders to enforce the judgment, or
- by a property (seizure and sale) order.
What is a means inquiry?
A means inquiry hearing is where the court decides if the judgment debtor has the money to pay the debt.
Unless the judgment debtor willingly pays, you will have to pay enforcement costs to try to get the judgment debtor to pay. Information obtained at the means inquiry about the judgment debtor's financial situation will help you to decide which enforcement option is best to try to recover the money owed to you. Some enforcement options cannot be tried until after a means inquiry.
You can ask the court for a means inquiry hearing. Usually, the judgment debtor comes to court and answers your questions about their income, expenses, assets and debts. Orders for payment can be made if the court decides that the judgment debtor has the ability to pay the judgment.
The judgment debtor can also ask for a means inquiry and other orders if they cannot pay or their financial circumstances have changed. For example, they might apply to the court for a suspension order if they are unable to pay the judgment debt.
It is important to get legal advice before going to a means inquiry hearing.
What happens at the means inquiry?
You can ask the judgment debtor questions about:
- their financial situation (including income, assets, and expenses), and
- the financial situation of their partner and/or dependants.
If the court believes the judgment debtor can pay the judgment, it can order:
- Payment of the debt in regular instalments (an instalment order).
- Payment of the debt straight away or by a set date (a time for payment order).
- The judgment debtor's employer to pay part of their wages to you (an earnings appropriation order). The court can only make this order if a previous instalment order has been disobeyed and cancelled.
The court may decide the judgment debtor cannot pay the debt at all and make no order.
I am a judgment debtor. Do I have to go to a means inquiry?
You should not ignore a summons to attend a means inquiry or other paperwork from the court. If you do not go to a means inquiry hearing, you could end up being arrested and taken to the court. You may be found in contempt of court for not attending, and be fined or imprisoned, if you do not have a good reason for not going to the hearing.
What is a property (seizure and sale) order?
A property (seizure and sale) order allows the sheriff or bailiff to take and sell the judgment debtor's personal property (cars, boats, and some personal items) or real estate (for example, a house) to pay the money the court says is owed to you. This will include the judgment debt, interest, and enforcement costs.
You can apply for a property (seizure and sale) order without going through a means inquiry first.
What if the judgment debtor wants to dispute the debt?
If someone is trying to enforce a judgment, and you don't think you owe the money, you should try to find out why the court has made a judgment against you. You can go to the court registry and ask to see the court file to try and find out when and why the court made an order against you. You will need to fill in a form to see the documents.
In some cases, you may be able to apply to the court to have the judgment set aside. You can also make an application to have other enforcement action suspended (stopped) until you can have the matter sorted out in court.
Lodging your application
Your application for enforcement proceedings must be lodged on the eCourtsPortal together with any fee required. You must register on the eCourtsPortal to lodge any documents.
If you cannot lodge electronically you can ask for an exemption for one document or all documents in your case. You must apply on the approved form (Form 69). A registrar may grant your application.
The court can also, for any good reason and without a formal application or request, exempt you from lodging a document or documents electronically.
If you are exempted from lodging a document electronically, the court or a registrar may give directions to you about how to lodge the document. This might be over the counter, by email, by post or by fax.
- Magistrates Court of WA
For forms and fact sheets about enforcing court judgments or having enforcement proceedings suspended.
Reviewed: 19 September 2022