By Alex Barthet

The term “judgment” sounds final. But in the law, winning a judgment is just the first step in getting paid. Your next move is turning that judgment into money.

A judgment is a court order that gives you, the creditor, various rights to a judgment debtor’s property. Only the people who are named in the judgment are subject to it. Related companies or relatives of the judgment debtor are not automatically connected to the debt.

It takes time and effort to collect on a judgment. The good news is that any fees you spend pursuing payment of the judgment should be collectable. The bad news is that it can take quite a while to see any real money. A judgment lasts for 10 years, and can be renewed for another 10 years, for a potential total of 20 years. This is a long time, so you have plenty of opportunity to collect on it. Your debtor may not have money now, but he may in another few years.

The distinction between a judgment and a lien claim is worth noting here. A lien is an encumbrance on real property that allows you to foreclose on that property and get paid when that property is sold. You may not be the only one with a lien, however. A lien has the priority date of either the day the notice of commencement is recorded, or, if the notice of commencement has expired, the date the lien was recorded. If you foreclose on that property and you are successful, you have priority to get paid based on the date of your lien.

However, it’s all about the amount of equity on the property. If you have a $100,000 lien, for example, but the property, which is appraised at $175,000 and is subject to a first mortgage of $200,000, you have a property with no equity, and your lien is not worth anything.

What about bonds?  These are rights you may have against the surety. If you prevail on a bond claim, you will have a money judgment against that surety.  And if you do, you should wait 60 days. Because after 60 days, if the judgment hasn’t been unsatisfied, the surety will be reported to the state insurance commissioner and potentially prevented from selling any more policies in the state. One judgment is worth very little compared to not being able to write more policies. As a