Domesticating Judgments

I am not a lawyer. This is my opinion and a summary of what I have learned and observed. If you need legal advice, contact a lawyer. Foreign judgment domestication sometimes describes the process of domesticating international judgments from another country into the US. Usually, moving a judgment from one State’s court system to another is known as foreign judgment domestication. This is also known as the domestication of a sister state judgment. Other kinds of foreign judgment domestications are the registration of federal judgments, and the confirmation of foreign arbitration awards. Sometimes you can reach a debtor’s assets without domesticating a judgment, with tools such as assignment orders, turnover orders of third-parties that are holding the debtor’s assets, and charging orders against LLCs. However, for most common enforcement actions, such as a levy, you have to domesticate the judgment to the State where the debtor’s assets are. What happens after you domesticate a judgment?

It allows you to enforce a judgment against the debtor’s assets with a levy. It also costs you money and/or time. The Judgment earns interest at the rate in the new State. It also serves notice to the debtor by mail, that you are domesticating the judgment. This takes away the element of surprise, which is often the most important element of a successful judgment recovery. It also gives the debtor a small chance of vacating the judgment within 30 days of being served. Make that 40 days, just to be sure because courts give extra time to allow for possible delays of first-class mail. Note that (in most States) the debtor’s ability to try to vacate the judgment does not stop you from enforcing the judgment as fast as you want. However, if the debtor persuades a judge to grant their proposed motion to vacate the judgment, you must give them all their money back, and sometimes more. Check the laws of your State.

Some situations and States require you to wait before enforcing the judgment. Usually, the debtor’s attempt to vacate a judgment does not work. When they do work, it’s usually because they persuaded a judge that they were not properly served. There are other reasons the debtor may be able to try to use, such as a pending motion to vacate (or an appeal, or another type of motion) in the original court. In my opinion, it’s usually harder and more expensive to domesticate judgments than it should be. Note that every State, even those that have adopted the federal “Uniform Foreign Money Judgments Recognition Act”, has its own rules and fees. Even within the same State, each County may have its own local rules. Always check the requirements of the County where you will be domesticating the judgment to. The best County to domesticate the judgment is where the debtor’s assets are. Some people hire attorneys to domesticate judgments. Others do it themselves. If you are in doubt, hire an attorney.

First, find out the rules of the local court. Many courts (the one you wish to domesticate the judgment to) require a copy of the original judgment to be certified and exemplified (having a seal) and signed by a clerk of the original court. Other courts require a triple seal judgment. A triple seal judgment has the signature of the clerk of the court, the seal of the court, and a certification of the authenticity signed by a judge. After you pay the original court, it may take awhile for the court to provide you a copy of the certified or triple seal judgment. When you get the copy from the original court, you then pay the new court, and file an affidavit with the judgment copy. Make sure you include the names and last known addresses of all parties to the judgment. Then you send by certified mail, a copy of everything to all parties on the judgment. It is important to determine the correct address of the debtor.