One obstacle to a clean title is an Abstract of Judgment, which is a method of placing a lien on real property to pay a legal judgment. If an individual in a lawsuit receives a financial responsibility, any real property is used as collateral against the obligation. If the judgment is not paid, the real property can be seized and sold to pay the financial responsibility.
An Abstract of Judgment remains on a title until the financial responsibility is discharged and all steps taken to remove the abstract.
What is the definition of an Abstract of Judgment, what is the effect on the individual receiving it, and how can you find one online?
Defining Abstract of Judgment
According to LegalDictionary.com, an Abstract of Judgment is a copy or summary of a judgment rendered by a court. The definition is nuanced to fit the case in which it is used.
For example, an Abstract of Judgment in a criminal case could be used to prove a defendant’s prior conviction. If the person receiving the judgment owns no personal property, the judgment may be placed against business property, or a Writ of Garnishment may be issued.
The individual receiving an Abstract of Judgment is considered a grantee, and the lien is created against non-exempt property; however, the lien is not created by the judgment itself. The lien is only created once the Abstract has been filed and indexed.
The Use of Abstracts of Judgment
As mentioned above, an Abstract of Judgment is a somewhat generic term, and the use depends on the type of case. Its primary purpose is to enforce collection of a monetary judgment. An Abstract of Judgment can cloud a title for years, including after the original grantee has died. At that time, the heirs must deal with it.
Even if the property is a homestead, and thus exempted from the judgment, the lien attaches to the property as soon as it is no longer the grantee’s homestead, while he or she still owns the property. If the grantee does not own real property at the time of judgment and filing, any property purchased afterward can be placed under lien if the Abstract of Judgment is still active.
The Effects of an Abstract of Judgment
When an Abstract of Judgment is filed, it appears as a lien or claim against the property on the public record. The lien or claim acts as a notification to anyone interested in purchasing the property or entity that wishes to file its own claim against it.
The grantee faces difficulty when selling a property with an Abstract of Judgment on the public record. The Abstract also makes it less likely the grantee can obtain a loan using that property as collateral.
If the grantee fails to pay the judgment, the lienholder can force a property sale to pay for the judgment.
An Abstract of Judgment may result in other impacts.
- A Writ of Garnishment allows the grantee’s bank account to be garnished.
- A Writ of Execution allows the grantee’s personal property to be seized and sold.
- A Turnover Order allows the grantee to transfer property to satisfy the judgment.
A Writ of Garnishment may be issued for the grantee if the individual owns no property against which a lien can be placed. For example, if the real property owned by the grantee is already under lien by another judgment or entity, it is not possible for the Abstract of Judgment to result in a lien against the same property. Instead, the judgment allows the creditor to demand the grantee’s bank account be garnished until the judgment is satisfied.
A Writ of Execution is another effect of an Abstract of Judgment. A Writ of Execution allows the grantee’s personal property to be sold to satisfy the judgment. Like the Writ of Garnishment, a Write of Execution can be used in cases where the grantee (or debtor) has no real property against which a lien can be placed.
A Writ of Execution is delivered by the office of the sheriff, which may confiscate the individual’s property to be auctioned. The proceeds go to pay for the judgment. The debtor may file a motion to exempt property. If the exemption is granted, some property may be considered exempt from seizure and auction. A debtor may be able to obtain an extension of time to pay the debt, also.
If the debtor is a business instead of an individual, any business-owned property may be exempt from the Writ. Therefore, the business property may not be sold to satisfy the judgment.
A Turnover Order may be issued so the debtor can transfer property directly to the creditor to satisfy the judgment. The creditor may then do whatever he or she wishes. Often the property is sold. However, the issuance of a Turnover Order on its own may not be enough. The court may also issue restraining orders so the debtor may not hide or waste an asset that could be sold. A Turnover Order is often accompanied by a Writ of Garnishment.
Finding an Abstract of Judgment Online
Since the Abstract of Judgment goes against a grantee and some county records hold separate files for grantors and grantees, a search for a physical file may be narrowed. However, if county records have been digitized and placed in an online database, you may have access to a variety of filters or use certain search criteria to narrow your search.
- Determine the county where the grantee owns real estate.
- Search by the grantee’s name or the case number if available.
- Look for the abbreviation “A/J” on real estate records.
- Learn which counties use a different abbreviation and substitute it when searching those records.
If you use CourthouseDirect.com, you can search an entire state by the name of the grantee. There is no need to know the county beforehand. If you are interested in a specific property, our database allows you to search with an address as well as a name.
In some cases, a grantee may not be aware that an Abstract of Judgment has been recorded against a property because notification may not be guaranteed or provided when the judgment is made. It’s possible the grantee may not have been required to appear or to have been notified of a lawsuit that resulted in such a judgment.
An Abstract of Judgment is but one tool the courts can use to obtain a monetary judgment against an individual. The judgment results in a lien against any real property owned by the grantee (the one against whom the judgment is placed), as long as the property is not already under lien by another entity.
Abstracts of Judgment are considered a cloud on a title and many banks and mortgage companies refuse to grant loans or participate in the sale of any property with a judgment against it. You can learn whether a property in which you have an interest has such a judgment by searching online county records by address or the name of the property owner.