The Official Code of Georgia Annotated 9-12-60 addresses the general terms and conditions of judgments in the State of Georgia. This statute was designed to clearly define the force an effect of a judgment taken within Georgia. In Georgia, a judgment is valid and enforceable for seven years from the date it is granted.
In order to keep a judgment from becoming unenforceable or dormant, O.C.G.A. 9-12-60 states, in part, the following actions must be taken: (1) entry is made on the execution (judgment) by an officer authorized to levy and return the same and the entry and date are entered by the clerk on the general execution docket within seven years after issuance of the execution and its record, or (2) unless a bona fide public effort on the part of the Plaintiff in execution to enforce the execution in the courts is made and due written notice of such effort specifying the time of the institution of the action or proceedings, the nature of the proceedings, the names of the parties, and the name of the court in which it is pending is filed by the Plaintiff in execution or his attorney at law with the clerk and is entered by the clerk on the general execution docket.
What this means for the average creditor is that while their judgment is good for seven years, they must take certain action before the expiration of seven years to keep their judgment enforceable. This is important for several reasons with respect to collection efforts. First, most debtors do not remain debtors forever and thus those who have patience and persistence can often collect on the judgment many years after it is rendered merely by keeping the judgment active. Second, because a judgment becomes dormant after seven years if it has attached to real property of the debtor and is not renewed, the debtor may be able to now sell the real property without making payment on your judgment. Third, most debtors quickly learn about this seven year rule and make a conscious effort to keep future earnings and assets out of their name for the seven years in hopes that creditors will not renew their judgment. Thus, if not renewed, the creditor has now given up on the debt and for credit and title purposes, the debtor no longer has any judgments against him or her.
It is advisable to attempt to establish a system for handling older judgments. This system may include such procedures as a annual review and credit check on the debtor. This would reveal major changes in the debtor’s credit history such as a new employer or automobile. This information can then be used to determine when is the best time to renew collection efforts. It is important to note that the renewal process can take place every seven years and thereby keep the judgment enforceable forever.
If a creditor fails to renew a judgment and it is later learned that assets exist, it is possible to “revive a dormant judgment”. Within Georgia, there are two methods to revive a dormant judgment. First, an action to renew a dormant judgment can be filed as a new action. Under this method, a petition is present to the court requesting that the dormant judgment be renewed.
The second method is a petition for seire facias. This is a petition which must be filed in the original case within three years of the time the judgment became dormant. Under this process, the original court is requested to allow the renewal of the judgment. These revival processes are usually granted, but there is always the possibility that a court will determine that a creditors failure to pursue a judgment would justify denying the revival petition.
Therefore, it is important to establish some procedure on how aging judgment are to be treated. It is important to note that the vast majority of creditors give up on cases after about three years and the fact that others are giving up may enhance your ability and likelihood of collection. In conclusion, your judgment is enforceable for seven years, but may be renewed for additional seven year periods forever. However, your failure to renew your judgment may render it unenforceable and thereby prevent any collection.
Mr. Busch is an attorney specializing in commercial and construction litigation for Busch, Reed, Jones & Leeper, P.C. in Marietta, Georgia