Updated on December 15, 2022
A judgment lien is a lien that attaches to a property of a party who owes money to another party as a result of a court judgment. In California, a judgment lien can only attach to real property. To attach a judgment lien to real property, the judgment creditor (someone who is owed money under a court judgment) must record an abstract of judgment at the county recorder’s office.
In a prior blog post, we talked about how to obtain an abstract of judgment. An abstract of judgment is a written summary of a judgment that gives the public notice of the creditor’s judgment lien. An abstract of judgment may be recorded in the every county where the party that owes money (also known as the judgment debtor) currently has real property or may own real property in the future. If a property is sold, the lien will attach to the proceeds of the sale. The lien clouds title.
An abstract of judgment may attach to many different types of interest in real property and is not limited to property to which the judgment debtor has legal title at the time the lien is recorded. Its wide reach creates some special issues that can create additional considerations for executing the lien. For example, an abstract of judgment can attach to the following:
● Real property that the judgment debtor subsequently acquires.
● The beneficial interest of a heir in the estate of a deceased person, so that the judgment creditor can collect after the heir’s interest vests sometime in the future.
● Real property that the judgment debtor transfers into a revocable living trust.
Further, the power of the judgment lien can sometimes reach beyond the debtor and impact property that the debtor jointly owns with others:
● It can attach to community property for debt incurred by either spouse before or during the marriage.
● It can attach to joint tenancy property that a debtor owns with others as joint tenants.
● It can attach to a debtor’s ownership interest in a partnership that owns real property (but not the partnership’s real property).
Depending on the timing of the recording or execution of the lien, judgment liens may successfully attach or extinguish and leave the judgment creditor no further recourse.
For example, normally a joint tenancy with a right of survivorship gives the surviving joint tenant the entire one-half interest of the deceased joint tenant. But where a judgment lien is recorded before a joint tenancy with right of survivorship is created, the creditor may enforce the judgment lien on the one-half interest previously owned by the deceased debtor—potentially leaving the surviving joint tenant with nothing.
In some circumstances, a third party may be in possession or control of the real property subject to a judgment lien. In other situations, a third party may owe a debt to the judgment debtor. In those situations, the judgment creditor may sue the third party to satisfy the judgment – so long as the creditor complies with the timing requirements and the 10-year period for enforcing the judgment has not expired.
Needless to say, there is a wide range of scenarios in which a judgment creditor may face in attaching and executing a lien. Each situation comes with an array of statutory requirements and attendant considerations. Our top real estate attorneys in Los Angeles at Schorr Law is experienced in enforcing and dealing with issues involving judgment liens. If you seek to enforce a money judgment or have one against you, please consider seeking legal advice to protect your rights. To schedule a consultation, please contact us by phone, email, or send us a message through our contact form.
See related: Liens and Priorities: Part 1