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Learn How to Collect Alimony or Child Support Arrears Using Real Propert Liens

Understanding Judgment Liens on Real Estate as a Tool to Collect Spousal Support or Child Support That Is Owed and Has Not Been Paid

Summary: Alimony is the more common term in the United States but in California alimony is called spousal support. Under Section 697.320 of the California Code of Civil Procedure, a judgment lien on real property may be created by the recording of a judgment for marital support obligations that are payable in installments. A real property lien can be used for collection of spousal support or child support. The statute further provides that the judgment lien is for the amount of installments as they mature under the terms of the judgment, but it does not become a lien for any installment until it is due and payable. Essentially, this provision allows a party to enforce a judgment lien for support payments only to the extent that the monies are due and owing, not for any future unpaid support payments.

Introduction: In California, Section 697.320 of the Code of Civil Procedure outlines the creation and enforcement of judgment liens on real property. This article focuses on using a real property judgment lien to obtain payment of existing spousal support or child support obligations that have not been paid.

Creating a Judgment Lien:Under Section 697.320a, a judgment lien on real property can be established by recording specific documents with the county recorder.

a. A judgment lien on real property is created under this section by recording an abstract, a notice of support judgment, an interstate lien form promulgated by the federal Secretary of Health and Human Services pursuant to Section 652(a)(11) of Title 42 of the United States Code,

b. Or a certified copy of Judgment for child, family, or spousal support payable in installments.

Lien Duration: Once created, a judgment lien remains in effect unless: The money judgment is satisfied (i.e., the support payments are made). The judgment lien is explicitly released. For judgments related to spousal and or child support, the lien continues during the entire period the judgment remains enforceable.

Timing Matters: While the judgment lien covers the amount of installments as they mature under the terms of the judgment, it doesn’t become a lien for any installment until it becomes due and payable.

In practical terms, this means that a party can enforce the lien only for spousal support payments that are currently due and owing—not for future unpaid support.