What Is an Abstract of Judgment in California?

By Teo Spengler - Updated June 19, 2017
Judge holding wooden gavel

An abstract of judgment in California is a legal document that is an official summary of a money judgment. A debtor wanting to secure a money judgment with a property lien against a debtor's real property files an abstract of judgment with the assessor-recorder in California counties where the debtor owns property.

Money Judgment Gives Right to Collect Debt

If you go to court because someone owes you money and the judge rules in your favor, you have what is called a money judgment. It gives you the right to collect the debt.

But winning a judgment in court in California does not necessarily mean that you'll have the money in hand by sunset. Many times people with money judgments have to jump through other legal hoops -- like getting a lien -- to collect the debt.

Collecting is simple if the debtor writes you a check. But sometimes her only asset is one or more parcels of real property. In that case, you must place a lien on the property to be able to collect the debt when she sells or refinances the property. You place a judgment lien by filling out and filing the California court form called Abstract of Judgment.

Abstract of Judgment is a Court Form

In California, an Abstract of Judgment is a short court form that you can download from any court website or obtain from the court clerk. You fill out the form by entering the requested information identifying the debtor and the lawsuit in which you won the judgment. You also fill in the amount of the judgment. Once the form is completed, the clerk of the court that issued the judgment must sign off on it, certifying it is correct.

Filing the Abstract of Judgment Creates a Lien

The certified abstract of judgment form is legal proof of your money judgment. You can file it with the recorder's office in the county where the debtor owns property.

Once you file the abstract of judgment, it becomes a lien on all real property the debtor owns in the county, including property she may later acquire. If the debtor sells or refinances the property, you may be paid with interest.

Interest on a judgment in California is 10 percent a year from the date of the judgment. If the debtor is a state or local governmental entity, interest is only 7 percent a year.

File an abstract of judgment in every county in which the debtor has property. If you have reason to believe she may acquire property in another county, file there as well.

Limited Life of Judgments

An abstract of judgment does not expire; it lasts as long as the judgment lasts which, in California, is 10 years from the date the judgment was entered. After 10 years, you can renew the judgment for a second 10-year period by filing the appropriate forms.

If you do not, the judgement will expire and you will no longer be able to collect on the debt. When you renew, prepare a new abstract of judgment as well and file it in the appropriate counties, noting the date of the renewal.

About the Author

From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. World traveler, professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.

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