Domesticating foreign judgment in Florida

Most creditors understand that if they obtain a money judgment in a state other than Florida the creditor can transfer the judgment to Florida in order to pursue the debtor’s Florida assets. Creditors are often uniformed about how long they have to collect the foreign judgment in Florida. The question is: what is the statute of limitations of a foreign judgment enforced in Florida.

The creditor with a foreign state judgment has two options to transfer and enforce judgment in Florida. The creditor can bring an action based on a foreign judgment within five years of the entry of the foreign judgment. This option does not “domesticate” the existing foreign judgment, but rather the creditor files a new Florida lawsuit to replicate the foreign state judgment. The procedure results in a new Florida judgment that is good for 20 years.

The more common option is domesticating the existing foreign judgment under Florida’s version of the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (UEFJA). The creditor records the foreign judgment in Florida and provides notice to the debtor. The debtor has 30 days to raise limited jurisdictional defenses. After 30 days, the foreign judgment becomes a Florida judgment. The creditor does not have to institute a new lawsuit in Florida so the domestication option faster, cheaper, and easier.

The five year statute of limitations to bring a lawsuit based on a foreign judgment does not apply to domestication under the UEFJA. A foreign judgment may be domesticated in Florida at any time during the foreign state’s statute of limitations for its judgments; this means that as long as the judgment is enforceable in the issuing state, the creditor may domesticate the foreign judgment in Florida. A domesticated foreign judgment has a 20-year statute of limitations in Florida, but the time runs from the date the judgment was first issued in the foreign state; the clock does not start at the domestication date.

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What Are the Steps to Domesticate a Foreign Judgment in Florida?

Here is the process to domesticate a foreign judgment in Florida:

1. Obtain a Certified Copy of the Foreign Judgment: The first step is to acquire a certified copy of the judgment from the clerk of the court in the state where the judgment was originally entered. This document must be an official and authenticated record.

2. File the Judgment with a Florida Court: The certified copy of the judgment must then be filed with the clerk of the circuit court in the Florida county where the creditor seeks to enforce the judgment. There is typically a filing fee associated with this step.

3. Provide Notice to the Debtor: Florida law requires that the debtor be notified after filing the judgment. The creditor must serve the debtor with a copy of the filed judgment and an affidavit. The affidavit usually includes details about the judgment, the last known address of the debtor, and a statement that the judgment is valid and enforceable.

4. Wait for the Mandatory Waiting Period: Florida law imposes a 30-day waiting period from when the debtor is served with the notice. During this time, the debtor can contest the domestication of the judgment. This contest is typically based on jurisdictional issues or claims that the original judgment was obtained fraudulently.

5. Address Any Challenges by the Debtor: If the debtor challenges domestication, the court will address these challenges. Common grounds for contesting include arguing that the original court lacked jurisdiction or that the judgment is not final or is on appeal. The debtor cannot, however, re-litigate the merits of the case.

6. Enforcement of the Judgment: If there are no successful challenges by the debtor, or once any challenges are resolved, the foreign judgment is considered domesticated in Florida. The judgment is then treated as though it were originally issued by a Florida court and can be enforced accordingly. Enforcement actions can include garnishing wages, levying bank accounts, or placing liens on property.

7. Periodic Renewal (if necessary): Depending on the time elapsed, it might be necessary to renew the judgment in Florida to keep it enforceable, as judgments can expire after a certain period.

Steps to domesticating a foreign judgment

How Long Does a Creditor Have to Domesticate a Foreign Judgment?

In Florida, the timeframe within which a creditor can domesticate a foreign judgment is governed by the statute of limitations. The key factor to consider is the foreign judgment’s lifespan according to the state’s laws where it was issued.

Generally, Florida law recognizes the principle of giving full faith and credit to judgments from other states, as mandated by the U.S. Constitution. This means that as long as the foreign judgment is valid and enforceable in the state where it was issued, it can typically be domesticated in Florida.

However, specifics can vary. Most states, including Florida, have a statute of limitations for enforcing judgments that usually ranges from 5 to 20 years, and this period can often be renewed. Therefore, a creditor must domesticate the foreign judgment in Florida within this period.

For example, if a judgment has a 10-year enforceability period in the state where it was issued, the creditor would generally need to domesticate that judgment in Florida within that 10-year timeframe. If the statute of limitations on the judgment is close to expiring, the creditor may need to renew the judgment in the original state before domesticating it in Florida.

Once domesticated in Florida, the judgment will be subject to Florida’s statute of limitations for enforcement. In Florida, a domesticated foreign judgment is treated as a Florida judgment, which typically has a 20-year lifespan but can vary depending on the specific type of judgment and any applicable renewals.

What Law Allows a Creditor to Domesticate a Foreign Judgment?

Domestication of foreign judgments in Florida is governed by the Florida Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act, which aligns with the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act adopted by many states. In Florida, this is found in sections 55.503 and 55.505 of the Florida Statutes.

Jon Alper

About the Author

I’m a nationally recognized attorney specializing in asset protection planning. I graduated with honors from the University of Florida Law School and have practiced law for almost 50 years.

I have been recognized as a legal expert by media outlets such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. I have helped thousands of clients protect their assets from creditors.

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