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Enforcing and Collecting on my Judgment - How Much Time do I Have?

If you have obtained a California judgment against a person or a business, you may be wondering how much time you have to enforce it and collect what you are owed.

This post pertains to “Money Judgments”, wherein one party has been ordered to pay money to another person or business entity in a lawsuit. Every case has different facts, so you should consult with an attorney before acting, or delaying action, regarding your judgment.

It is important to note that this discussion only pertains to your options after you have obtained a judgment (post-judgment). There are entirely different, and very strict, rules and deadlines that pertain to how much time you have to file a lawsuit or take other legal action pre-judgment.

It is easy to get confused in the legal arena, so it is helpful to discuss just what a judgment is:

A judgment is one or more pieces of paper, signed by a judge (or other “judicial officer”, or, sometimes, a clerk), with a court stamp on the top right corner of the first page. A “court order” is usually enforceable as well, but it is usually wise to obtain a judgment, from the court, based on that court order.

Promises to pay, oral agreements, written agreements, contracts, canceled checks, and partial payments, all are not judgments.

In California, most judgments expire ten years after “Entry of Judgment”. A few types of judgments that do not expire are judgments issued under the Family Code (that is, in a divorce case), or criminal restitution, if you were the victim of a crime. Those judgments that fall within the ten-year expiration rule can be “Renewed”, if you do this before they expire, and it usually beneficial to renew all judgments, as you can effectively compound your 10% annual interest on the judgment.

It is best to start the renewal process at least one year before the judgment is set to expire. The renewal process can take several months. The court can have a substantial backlog of cases, and you likely will not be able to renew a judgment just by visiting the courthouse. When the court does process your paperwork, if the clerk finds any defects or omissions, your documents will be rejected and returned to you. You will then have to correct the mistake, resubmit your documents, and start the waiting process again, as you will be “at the back of the line”.

You can renew your judgment if more than five years have passed since it was last renewed. In what may have been an oversight, the law does not address the minimum time period for the first renewal, but, as a practical matter, you may simply calendar your judgment for renewal every five years.

Disclaimer -

The information in this blog is general in nature. The law is constantly changing, and exceptions, and exceptions to exceptions, run rampant throughout the legal system. Every case is different. You are advised to contact an attorney with any questions you may have about your individual case.

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