A judgment is a decision for the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit. In many cases, the plaintiff is a lender or creditor to whom you owe a past due debt, and the judgment decision is an award for money. Civil judgments are documented in publicly available court records. Unlike with judgment information on a credit report that disappears within 7 to 10 years, a judgment may remain in public records for a longer period.
Docketed vs. Non-docketed Judgments
Docketing is a common requirement in order for a judgment creditor to begin collection efforts via wage garnishment or freezing a bank account. It involves filing an “Affidavit of Identification of Judgment Debtor,” or a similarly titled affidavit, that identifies you as the judgment debtor and describes the facts of the case. In most states, only docketed judgments become public record.
State Laws Prevail
State public records laws determine how long a judgment stays on public record. For example, a docketed judgment entered in a Wisconsin court remains public record for 20 years. In Michigan, the public record statute of limitations on a judgment is 10 years.
Because the information is a historical record of court activity, the record will remain even if you pay the judgment, get it dismissed by filing bankruptcy or are able to vacate a default judgment during this time. However, its status will change from “open” to “paid,” “dismissed” or “vacated.” An unpaid judgment will remain on public record until the judgment expires or until you pay the debt in full.
All state public records laws provide ways to view public record information, although not always free of charge. The National Center for State Courts provides links to all state court websites, as well payment information for states that charge a fee to view public record information.