The Abstract of Judgment

June 17, 2013
Abstracts of judgment arise after a court issues a judgment in a civil suit where one party seeks financial recovery from another.  These documents can arise in almost any field of civil practice, including business litigation.  So what is an abstract of judgment?  How does one obtain an abstract of judgment?  And what is its purpose?
 
581989_sealed.jpgAbstract of Judgment Defined
 
An abstract of judgment is just a technical term for a document that a judgment creditor creates in order to place a lien on a judgment debtor's real property (or on the judgment debtor's possible recovery in a lawsuit that's still pending).  A judgment creditor is simply a winning party to a financial lawsuit, and the judgment debtor is the losing party.  In other words, after a judgment in a financial suit, a judgment debtor owes money to a judgment creditor.
 
These terms can seem confusing, but in short, they simply refer to a situation in which a court has ruled that Party A (judgment debtor) owes Party B (judgment creditor) money, and Party B can create an "abstract of judgment" in order to place a lien on the real property of the judgment debtor.  In many cases, that real property is the judgment's debtor's home, but it can also be any real property owned by the debtor.
 
Obtaining an Abstract of Judgment
 
Someone wishing to obtain an abstract of judgment needs to be familiar with the process.  The abstract of judgment is a written document that lists precisely how much money the debtor owes to the creditor.  It also includes the contact information for both parties, the rate of interest that the debtor must pay on the debt, the court costs, and any other orders by the judge that the debtor is required to comply with.  California Code of Civil Procedure Section 674 specifies the exact elements that must appear in the abstract of judgment.

Usually, these written documents are prepared on a form provided by the state.  In California, the abstract of judgment is a Judicial Council Form, and it's only two pages long.  It's important to fill out the form completely and accurately to avoid delays.  Once the abstract of judgment is filed and executed by the court, it is then recorded at the San Diego County Recorder's office.  The judgment creditor creates a judgment lien on the debtor's real property once the abstract of judgment has been properly recorded.  If the judgment debtor has property in more than one county, an abstract of judgment must be recorded in each county in order to obtain a judgment lien on each property.  In other words, the recorded abstract of judgment becomes attached to the debtor's property in whatever county in which it is recorded (even if the debtor acquires property after the abstract of judgment is recorded).

In short, the abstract of judgment creates a lien against the debtor's real property making it difficult if not impossible to sell or borrow against the property.  In doing so, the judgment debtor is more likely to try and pay off the debt in order to free up his or her assets.   If you have questions about filing or recording an abstract of judgment in California, contact an experienced San Diego litigation attorney for assistance.