judgment lien

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A judgment lien is a claim on a debtor’s property created via a judgment against a defendant when they fail to pay a debt. The lien creates a security interest in the debtor’s property until the obligation to the creditor is satisfied or the creditor takes possession of the attached property. A judgment lien is superior or senior to any subsequent liens created after the judgment but is a junior lien to any liens existing prior to the judgment. 

In the case of judgment liens, the debtor is known as a judgment debtor, while the creditor becomes a judgment creditor

In federal courts, the rules on judgment liens are codified by 28 USC §3201 – 

  • Creation. A judgment in a civil action shall create a lien on all real property of a judgment debtor on filing a certified copy of the abstract of the judgment in the manner in which a notice of tax lien would be filed under paragraphs (1) and (2) of section 6323(f) of the Internal Revenue Code.
    • A lien created under this paragraph is for the amount necessary to satisfy the judgment, including costs and interest.
  • Priority of Lien. A lien created under subsection (a) shall have priority over any other lien or encumbrance which is perfected later in time.
  • Duration of Lien; Renewal. 
    • Except as provided in paragraph (2), a lien created under subsection (a) is effective, unless satisfied, for a period of 20 years.
    • Such lien may be renewed for one additional period of 20 years upon filing a notice of renewal in the same manner as the judgment is filed and shall relate back to the date the judgment is filed if:
      • the notice of renewal is filed before the expiration of the 20-year period to prevent the expiration of the lien; and
      • the court approves the renewal of such lien under this paragraph.
  • Release of Judgment Lien. A judgment lien shall be released on the filing of a satisfaction of judgment or release of lien in the same manner as the judgment is filed to obtain the lien.

[Last updated in June of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]