How a Judgment Becomes a Lien
By: J. Matthew Kelly, Esq.
Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A.
At the end of a lawsuit, the prevailing party often ends up with a final judgment awarding it some monetary amount from the losing party. This amount can include amounts for damages, attorney’s fees, and costs.
In many cases, obtaining the judgment is only the first step in recovering any money awarded. Collecting on a judgment can sometimes be more intensive than actually getting the judgment awarded by the court.
While there are many active ways to attempt to collect on a judgment such as garnishing wages and bank accounts, judgment creditors can also use their judgment to create a lien on the judgment debtor’s real and personal property.
Real property is land and the buildings which occupy the land. A judgment can become a lien on the judgment debtor’s real property. In order for a judgment to become a judgment lien on a judgment debtor’s real property, a certified copy of the judgment must be recorded in the official records of the county where the judgment debtor owns real property. Additionally, the judgment itself must contain the address of the individual who possess the lien as a result of the judgment or an affidavit must be simultaneously recorded with the certified copy of the judgment stating the lien holder’s address.
Once a judgment is recorded as described above, it becomes a lien on real property. Importantly, a judgment lien is only effective in the county for which it is recorded. If a judgment is recorded in Polk County but the judgment debtor only owns real property in Orange County, the judgment holder has not created a lien on the judgment debtor’s property. As a result, great care must be taken to ensure that the judgment is recorded in the appropriate counties to create a lien on a judgment debtor’s property.
Judgment liens on real property have an expiration date. Under the current law, a judgment lien recorded on or after July 1, 1994 remains a judgment lien on real property for ten years from the date of its recording. A judgment lien holder can extend this period for one additional ten-year period by rerecording a certified copy of the judgment prior to the expiration of the lien and by simultaneously recording an affidavit with the current address of the lienholder. An extension is effective from the date the certified copy of the judgment is rerecorded. No judgment can act as a lien on real property in Florida after twenty years from the date of the entry of the judgment expires.
A judgment can become a lien on the judgment debtor’s personal property by filing a judgment lien certificate with the Florida Department of State. The Florida Department of State produces a form Judgment Lien Certificate which can be filled out and filed with the department in order to create the lien on personal property. A judgment lien on personal property becomes effectives the date it is filed.
A judgment lien on personal property also has an expiration date. A judgment lien pursuant to a judgment lien certificate, becomes invalid five years after the date of the filing of the judgment lien certificate. However, at any time within six months before or six months after the scheduled lapse of a judgment lien, the judgment creditor may acquire a second judgment lien by filing a new judgment lien certificate. The effective date of the second judgment lien is the date and time on which the judgment lien certificate is filed. The second judgment lien permanently lapses and becomes invalid five years after its filing date, and additional liens based on the original judgment or any judgment based on the original judgment may not be acquired.
When dealing with liens time is of the essence as liens are generally prioritized by the time with which they were recorded or filed. If someone records their judgment first or files their judgment certificate first, it will generally be superior to those liens that are recorded or filed later in time.
Florida law does provide for certain homestead exemptions which exempt a judgment debtor’s homestead and some personal property from forced sale and from judgment liens. If you believe that certain property may be protected by Florida’s homestead exemption it is recommended to consult with an attorney regarding these rights.
If you were recently awarded a judgment, or are attempting to collect on a judgment, I would advise hiring an attorney to streamline the process and to make sure your judgment is perfected appropriately against the assets of the judgment debtor.
J. Matthew Kelly is an attorney with the law firm Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A. in Lakeland. Questions can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.