For what it's worth, your client has already paid a portion of what they owe, thus confirming and acknowledging the debt.
They've given you the upper hand, so go right ahead and file a claim in small claims court. Your client will find themselves in a very poor position.
Clearly you can establish that your client asked for the work, that you did it and that they were satisfied with it, so much so that paid for part of it.
Just be sure to include the interest on the amount owing, plus court costs when you declare a total.
You're not looking to make extra money off of this, just wanting what you're owed.
I unfortunately get this periodically, and the bottom line is this: Run your business like a business, you cannot be everybody's friend. If you don't have a contract with them, then you need to bill them stating what the result of non-payment will be. I would send that Certified Mail. Give them 15 days to respond and then disconnect. Every Utility company out there will disconnect your service for non-payment so I think you are justified in doing so. Can they get an attorney, sure, but will they, hard to say. I would consult with an attorney first before you do anything, and have him send them a letter at minimum. Make sure you have all your legal ducks in a row just in case.
In the future I would make sure you have a contract, you can find templates online, edit it to include non-payment terms and things to reflect your business etc and have an attorney bless it. Even with an agreement though, people will still try to stick you, you really have to spell everything out in your agreement, project scope, your responsibilities, client responsibilities, what happens if things are late on both sides, completion time-lines etc.
When clients burn you a couple of times you will tighten things down more out of necessity. Good luck!
This is a great thread.
I have to admit, a few years ago I felt an exhilarating experience taking down a client's website for non-payment.
My graphic designer at the time and I worked pretty hard and nice on the project for very very cheap. The client approved the layout, pictures and text and told me to go live with it. So I did.
After about a day, the client's friends/colleagues decided THEY didn't like the site so much and expressed their opinions on the matter to the client who in turn wanted massive changes to the site and basically a new template. They were supposed to meet with me the second day after launch to pay me but decided they weren't going to. I guess they didn't know I could pull the plug.
So after our disagreeing discussion on the matter of approval and so forth, I logged into my hosting manager account and flicked the switch. The calls came in and I was hugely amused. They threatened legal action but it went no where and they ended up paying the next day.
They didn't sign a contract as at that time I didn't see the necessity of one but I suppose since there wasn't one in place, we'd both 'lose' in court or maybe they just would as there was really no proof contractually that we did any work for them.
The question that would be raised would be, how the hell did this guy (me) have the ability to take down their website - well obviously because I hosted it.
Either way that was an interesting few days.
I now also make sure my clients sign a contract.
The more they know you're right the more inclined they should be to pay if they really want their website back up!
I too have had to deal with this type of situation. Good luck!! Most every time, once the website is gone, the check shows up.