What Does It Mean to Domesticate a Judgment?

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Given that judgments are court decisions rendered in civil litigation, there is plenty of terminology within the system that average people do not understand. Take the idea of domesticating a civil judgment. Most people would have no idea what that means. On the other hand, judges and attorneys are fully versed in judgment domestication.

Domesticating a judgment is directly related to collecting monetary awards. It is most frequently observed when judgment debtors (losing parties) either move to a different jurisdiction or have nonexempt assets physically located in other jurisdictions.

Collecting Monetary Awards

The whole idea of domesticating a judgment stems from the collection of monetary awards. Imagine a landlord suing a tenant for nonpayment of rent. The court enters a judgment in favor of the landlord, awarding him back rent, interest and penalties, and money to cover his legal expenses. Now he needs to collect the award.

Most civil lawsuits are managed at the county level. The landlord would sue in the same county where his rental property is located. Assuming the former tenant still lives and works in the county, no further action is needed. Collection efforts can be pursued according to the letter of the law. Things could change if:

  1. The debtor moves outside of the county; or
  2. The creditor locates debtor assets located in another county or state.

If either of these two conditions occur, a creditor would have to have the judgment domesticated in order to pursue collection efforts in another jurisdiction. Otherwise, collection is limited to the original county in which the lawsuit was filed.

Moving to Another State

A good way to explain domestication is to imagine the tenant moving to an entirely different state. Judgment Collectors, a collection agency out of Salt Lake City, UT, is already working on collection when the tenant moves. Judgment Collectors advises the creditor that its judgment will have to be domesticated in the new county and state of residence. Let us assume Idaho is the state.

The creditor’s attorney would contact the appropriate county court in Idaho. Paperwork would be filed to domesticate, or register if you will, the original lawsuit in the new county. Once entered into the court’s record, Judgment Collectors could then begin collection efforts in Idaho.

County to County

Not all cases of domestication involve a debtor moving out-of-state. Many cases involve assets owned in neighboring counties. For example, Judgment Collectors once worked on a case in which a debtor owned a piece of property in another county. In order to go after that property with a writ of seizure, it was necessary for the creditor to have the judgment domesticated in the county where the property was located.

Having to domesticate a judgment is actually more common than most people know. There are several reasons for this. First is the fact that people who own real property often have properties in other counties. A nonexempt property might be a vacation home or a residential rental. It could even be something like a private airplane hangar.

Another reason for domestication is the practice of disposing of assets in neighboring counties. This is a common tactic among debtors skilled at avoiding paying their debt. They attempt to transfer or sell nonexempt assets in other jurisdictions, before those assets are discovered by creditors, attorneys, or collection agencies.

One way or another, a judgment needs to be domesticated in a new jurisdiction before collection efforts in that jurisdiction can begin in earnest. Domestication is simply entering the judgment in the new jurisdiction to make an official. Domestication often requires little more than filing appropriate paperwork.

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