Are all judgments the same?

No. There is significant variety in the nature of judgments and how they are affected by a bankruptcy case. Notable questions are whether a judgment lien exists against the debtor's property and whether the judgment concerns an underlying not-dischargeable debt.

Judgment liens may exist when a judgment debtor owns real estate. To be effective as a lien, the judgment must be in the county the property is located in or transcribed into that county's records. When a creditor has a judgment lien, it can use legal process to force the sale of the property. Even if the creditor does not pursue sale, the lien stays with the land, impeding the ability of the owner to sell the land free-and-clear. Unlike the judgments they arise from, judgment liens survive bankruptcy unless they are avoided. Elsewhere, we discuss how judgment liens may be avoided in bankruptcy.

Judgments carry forward the same dischargeability character as the underlying debt. A debt that would be wiped out by a bankruptcy discharge doesn't survive just because it has become a judgment (but see judgment liens above). Similarly, a non-dischargeable debt like a student loan or child support stays non-dischargeable as a judgment. 

Federal civil judgments from suits by private parties against individual consumers are not particularly common. For the most part, federal judgments are handled in same fashion as North Carolina state judgments. (See 28 USC § 1962, NCGS § 1‑237, FRCP Rule 69). As they are unusual, federal judgments against consumers should be carefully evaluated to determine how bankruptcy law treats the obligation associated with the underlying cause of action.

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