"Hi, I hope you can help me out. My spouse recently got a letter about a debt that’s very old – as in 15 years old – that an agency is trying to collect with a debt garnishment. He was still in college when this debt was incurred if the collector is telling the truth about the age and origin of the debt. The interest charges are way bigger than the debt itself, and we’re scrambling around to try and find out if he actually paid it since he can’t even remember what it’s for. There was apparently a default judgment a long time back, he can’t remember ever seeing a summons or being served. The collection agent told us that judgments are valid up to 20 years and sometimes for as much as 30 years. Is this true? If it is, what can we do about it?"
The answer is, “Sort of.”
How do judgements work?
According to the Florida Bar, the life of a judgment lien is 20 years. So, let’s break down what a judgment lien is and does. A judgment lien gives a creditor the through to take possession of real property such as the debtor’s personal property, business, real estate, and personal property to satisfy a debt. This lien is paid out of the proceeds of the sale of the property. The problem is that the 20-year limit might not be an actual limit.
You see, the holder of the lien can go to the court just before the judgment becomes dormant and hot the reset button for another decade, this while the original judgment sits around and gathers interest. This is called “extension of the judgment lien.” You and your spouse may be caught in Florida Statute 55.10, which provides that allows that debt to be transferred to “any person having an interest” – such as a debt collection agency – for money or a surety bond.
Now, if your spouse thinks that he repaid the debt or previously paid the judgment, you need to get proof. You might be able to find a canceled check, a receipt, or some kind of record. You also need to make the debt collector show that they do in fact own the lien and that the lien exists. I hate to bring scams into it, but there are scammers who use public records to shake down people for money that they do not owe.
Until I know more, I can only advise you in a very general way. What I’d like to do is to have you come down to one of the offices – West Palm Beach or Fort Lauderdale, your pick – and have a consultation with you and your spouse. It’s a free initial consultation, but that way I can get a better grip on what’s happening here and give you a way forward either on your own or with counsel. Either way, let’s get this handled before you lose any more sleep over it. Give us a call today!