Domesticating a Judgment

August 11, 2023


Q: I have a judgment from one state and my debtor moved to another. Before I assign it to a Judgment Enforcer, can they domesticate it for me?

A: Usually, a Judgment Enforcer (JE) will only domesticate a judgment they already own. Because it usually takes a lot of time and money to domesticate a judgment – there is no guarantee a JE will be willing to pay for, or domesticate a “wild” judgment for you. Even JEs that otherwise never would charge you a dime to enforce your judgment, often require you to pay and accomplish the one-time expense to domesticate your judgment.

One more reason many JEs prefer you to domesticate your judgment are the unexplained delays in many courts when sending documents to them by mail. As the owner of the judgment, with the same name as the plaintiff on the court case, courts are more likely to expedite the domestication process.

When the judgment debtor has deep pockets and the judgment amount is large, a JE is more likely to first take ownership of your judgment and then advance the expense of domestication. When a debtor seems poor and/or the judgment amount is small, a JE is less likely to advance this expense before owning the judgment.

In all cases where your debtor absconds to another state, you should prepare ahead to get your judgment enforced. It is a good idea to get a Certified/Exemplified/Triple-sealed copy of the judgment from your local Court. This will save time, and increases the chances your judgment will be enforced. Any court-issued receipt for the cost of doing this should be saved, and sent to the JE. The cost may be reimbursed later by the debtor, when the judgment is recovered.

Most states have adopted a version of the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (UFFJA). www.uniformlaws.org Get an exemplified copy of the judgment from the court, attached it to your notice of foreign judgment and affidavit on filing foreign judgment. Docket it in a court in the state where you want to domesticate it, mail a copy via certified mail to the JD, then file your proof of mailing with the court.

Domesticating judgments is not as easy or cheap as it should be. In most states, the law requires the debtor to be noticed of the domestication. In some states enforcement is stayed for a certain time after domestication.

After domestication, does the judgment earn interest at the original state’s interest rate, or does it earn interest at the rate in the new state? Logically, it would earn interest at the new state rate. However, in many states and courts, the interest rate will be calculated at the original state rate. In some courts, they let you calculate the interest at the new state rate.

Such laws give judgment debtors another chance to hide their assets. In addition to the filing fee and the certification fees for the foreign judgment, there are postage costs to mail notice to the debtor(s).

(In California): To domesticate a judgment is a “new lawsuit”. The judgment must be valid (e.g. not expired), and one needs to fill out both an “Application for Sister State Judgment” and a “Notice of Entry of Sister State Judgment”, and serve notice of that to the debtor, (and pay the court’s more than $300 filing fee). See our Foreign Judgment Enforcement article.

Q: Can someone domesticate my judgment for me, even if I want to enforce it myself? I don’t mind paying per hour, but don’t want to pay a retainer to a lawyer.

A: If you are going to enforce your judgment yourself, you must learn to domesticate it yourself, or hire a lawyer. You may find a lawyer that will domesticate a judgment for a fixed fee. JudgmentBuy, and any Judgment Enforcer who is not a lawyer cannot do this for you, unless they are first assigned your judgment. JudgmentBuy can refer you to a lawyer, or the best collection agency with a good track record on judgments, where you do not have to assign your judgment, and that hires lawyers. (Also, see our National Lawyer State Bar List).

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