What is a Judgment Lien?

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Winning a money judgment in a lawsuit feels wonderful, but don't pull out the bottle of champagne just yet. It can be a long and winding road to get from winning a money judgment in court to seeing that money land in your bank account. If the defendant pays up, you can celebrate, but if not, get ready for the real battle. Judgment liens are one weapon you can count on to give you a security interest in the debtor's property.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

A judgment lien is a lien that is attached to a debtor's property, including real estate and other assets, after a judgment is entered against him.

What is the Difference Between a Judgment and a Judgment Lien?

If you bring a lawsuit against somebody and win, the court order that declares your victory is called a judgment. Judgments are written documents, drafted and signed by the judge hearing the matter. A money judgment is a judgment ordering one party to pay money to the other.

Money judgments are not limited to debt lawsuits, but can result from almost any type of civil litigation. For example, if you sue your doctor for malpractice, you are asking for money to compensate you for damage done. A judgment against the doctor will be a money judgment.

Getting a judgment is the best possible result in a lawsuit, but it is hardly the end of the road. Some defendants pay up immediately, but many do not. The law provides a handful of tools that help the winner of a money judgment (called a judgment creditor) to collect the judgment from a judgment debtor. A judgment lien is one of them.

A judgment lien is a lien created when someone wins a money judgment. In most states, the judgment creditor has to record the judgment by filing it with the county or state. In other states, the judgment automatically creates a lien on the real estate the debtor owns in that county or state. A lien means that the debtor cannot sell or refinance the real property until the lien is paid off first. If the creditor files the judgment with the Department of Motor Vehicles, the debtor's vehicles are also subject to the lien. In some states, a judgment lien also operates against personal property.

Do Judgment Liens Expire?

Judgment liens have different life-spans depending on the jurisdiction. Liens from federal judgments expire in 20 years. However, a judgment lien can be renewed for a second 20-year term.

In Florida, the life of a judgment lien is five years, and the lien can be renewed for a second five-year period. In Texas, a judgment lien lasts for 10 years and can be renewed.

How Do You Remove a Judgment Lien?

If the debtor pays you off or you reach a compromise, you will need to remove the judgment lien. You do this by filing a document called a "satisfaction of judgment" or a "release of lien." Look for a court form for your state on the internet or ask at the court. File the document in the same places you filed the judgment lien.

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About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.